The Mechanical Pencil
In 1822, the first patent for a lead pencil that needed no sharpening was granted to two British men, Sampson Mordan and Isaac Hawkins.
A silversmith by trade, Mordan eventually bought out his partner and manufactured the new pencils which were made of silver and used a mechanism that continuously propelled the lead forward. When the lead ran out, it was easily replaced.
While Mordan may have marketed and sold the product as his own, the idea for a mechanical pencil was not a new one. In fact, its roots date back to the late 18th century where a refillable-type pencil was used by sailors on the HMS Pandora, a Royal Navy ship that sank on the outer Great Barrier Reef and whose artifacts including the predated writing utensil was found in its wreckage.
Mordan’s design notwithstanding, between 1822 and 1874, nearly 160 patents for mechanical pencils were submitted, which included the first spring and twist feeds.
Then In 1915, a 21-year old factory worker from Japan named Hayakawa Tokuji designed a more practical housing made of metal and called it the “Ever-Ready Sharp.”
Simultaneously in America, Charles Keeran, an Illinois businessman and inventor, created his own ratchet-based pencil that he similarly called “Eversharp” and was often mistaken for Tokuji’s design. Keeran claimed individuality and test marketed his product in department stores before submitting a patent. The pencil was so popular that Keeran had trouble keeping up with orders. To help with production, he partnered with the Wahl Adding Machine Company of Chicago.
It was not a good fit.
Keeran lost most of his stock holdings in a bad deal and was eventually forced out even though his pencils were making millions annually in sales.
Around the same time, in Japan, Tokuji’s factory was leveled by an earthquake. He lost nearly everything including some members of his family. So to start anew and settle debts he sold the business, began making radios instead and founded Sharp, named for the pencil, which still today is one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world.