The History of the Mechanical Pencil

The Mechanical Pencil is an elegant writing implement known for its precision, reliability, artistry and beauty. Ideas move smoothly and accurately from the hand to the page with a crisp elegance. The magic of the mechanical pencil is its ability to continually remain sharp and ready to use, as well as creating precise lines on the page. Unlike a typical pencil which requires regular sharpening, the mechanical pencil only requires a quick press or twist of the handle to extend the pencil point so your words and ideas can continue to flow. (Link:


Rather than ink used in fountain or roller pens, the mechanical pencil uses  a solid core usually called “lead” but which is actually made of graphite. A mechanism extends the solid pigment core using a technology that helps to push the lead forward while in use. Known as a mechanical pencil in the United States it is sometimes called a “propelling pencil” in the UK and a “pen pencil” in India. Invented hundreds of years ago, this elegant, precise writing instrument has a fascinating history to explore.


While ink pens were in use in Ancient Egypt, the mechanical pencil has a somewhat more recent history. A mechanical pencil was invented in 1565 by Conrad Gesner, a renowned Swiss physician, philosopher, bibliographer, natural historian and illustrator.  He described a writing instrument in which graphite, which was then thought to be a type of lead, was set in a wooden holder.  His “leadholder” pencil had to be manually adjusted in order to be sharpened.  (Link:


Mechanical pencils were known to be in use in the 1700s. The earliest existing example of a mechanical pencil was found aboard the wreckage of the HMS Pandora, the ship that was best known for its role hunting down the Bounty mutineers, which sank in 1791. The wreck was found in 1977 and a mechanical pencil was among the treasures discovered onboard.


The first patent for a refillable pencil with a lead-propelling mechanism was issued to Sampson Mordan and John Isaac Hawkins in Britain in 1822. Mordan later entered into a business partnership with Gabriel Riddle from 1823 to 1837 to produce a beautiful, working mechanical pencil. The earliest Mordan pencils are marked “SMGR” to commemorate the company founders.


In 1837, Mordan began manufacturing mechanical pencils on his own through "S.Mordan & Co." The company continued to make mechanical pencils until the factory was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War.


Improvements in mechanical pencil design continued throughout the 19th century with 160 patents registered between 1822 and 1877, capped off by the arrival of the spring-loaded mechanical pencil.

Two years later marked a leap forward when Joseph Hoffmann invented the pushbutton clutch in New York City, first used in the Eagle Automatic by the Eagle Pencil Company. This design marked the first true mechanical pencil. While a significant advancement, the clutch on the Eagle Automatic had too much give for it to be used for professional drafting.


In 1895, the first twist-feed mechanism arrived, advancing the lead by twisting a screw, which moved a slider down the barrel of the pencil. This style of pencil was the most common type of mechanical pencil at the beginning of the twentieth century.


In 1915, Tokuji Hayakawa in Japan improved the mechanical pencil, using a twist or screw-based design, naming it the “Ever-Ready Sharp Pencil.” Soon, companies from Tokyo to Osaka placed large orders for his pencil, leading him to launch his formal business, taking the name from the pencil, “Sharp.”


Meanwhile, at the same time in the U.S., Charles R. Keeran was creating a similar style pencil that would be the forerunner of most of today's modern pencils. His design was ratchet-based and he patented his lead pencil in 1915 with production following soon after. His product was marketed as the “Eversharp” pencil by the Wahl Adding Machine Company. By the early 1920s, Wahl sold more than 12,000,000 Eversharps.  (Link:


Throughout the 20th century, manufacturers improved on quality and production processes to bring us the high-quality, precision instruments we have today. Current day mechanical pencils are made with outstanding quality and elegance and bring together the traditions of the original designs combined with precise manufacturing processes. They are sturdy, elegant, and can provide a lifetime of beautiful words, images and designs on the page. We are proud to offer the ZenZoi mechanical pencil which follows the rich traditions set down before it, while offering world-class craftsmanship and quality.