The Simple (?) Life of a Pencil

It’s just a simple pencil . . .

Have you ever thought about how buying a simple pencil does for you? Obviously it is something you can use to write with, or perhaps do math or other things with. But is that the whole story?

Let’s think about how a pencil is made. OK, we know it has lead, wood, a metal ring that holds a rubber eraser. So what?

Let’s start with the lead. Galena, also called lead sulfite, comes from underground mines all over the world. The lead ore seams are blasted out of the ground and then brought to the surface for refining. How many people do you suppose are employed for this purpose, and then what about the means to refine it?

Lead ores are mined at a rate close to 5 million tons a year and the world market for refined lead stands at about US $15 billion. While lead has a high economic value, it is economical to produce. As with all metals, there are two main production routes: Primary production from mined lead ore is the original source of all lead, but secondary production, where it can be recovered from recycled products or from residues arising from the production process is of enormous importance. How many people do you suppose are employed for this purpose?

While it has a high economic value, lead is relatively economical to produce. As with all metals, there are two main production routes. Primary production from mined lead ore is of course the original source of all lead, but secondary production, where it is recovered from recycled products or from residues arising from the production process is of enormous importance.

Lead ores are mined at a rate close to 5 million tons a year and the world market for refined lead stands at about US $15 billion.

Secondary lead production now accounts for more than half of all lead produced throughout the world. More than 80% of lead in the U.S. comes from secondary production. And how many people do you suppose are employed by this process? Don’t forget the drivers of trucks and perhaps ships used to transport the lead.

So without giving away all the really cool facts involved in the production of a simple pencil, I am certain that if you find any of this interesting, you will do some research into the wood, the painting, the metal used for holding the eraser, and the eraser itself. That is an incredible number of people employed that YOU enable by buying a simple five or ten cent pencil!

There are so many things in this world that we all take for granted as being simple products, that we have no clue how many people we enable to be employed every time we buy a simple product. Think of how many products you believe are very simple things, and what must go into bringing them to you and how many people you help every time you buy one of those things. Thank you to the many people of this world.

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15 thoughts on “The Simple (?) Life of a Pencil

  1. Very true. I think we live in a world that often forgets and we simply take things for granted. Whether it is something like a pencil or another object. The cars we drive don’t magically pop out of the ground at a local car dealership. The amount of science and work to get us the thing we assume will start each day and take us wherever we want in the morning.

    Important, however, are the people in our lives who we often take for granted. We assume they will always be there, because they always have been. Then we wake up one morning and they’re not.

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    1. Never a truer statement. I have become very aware of this statement now that I am facing 78 come November. I feel healthy, and of course likely most of us do not really want to die, but it will come for all of us. Thank you for this wonderful reminder. I so miss those who have gone before me. There is so much I would love to have shared, and there simply was never enough time. That has to be the bane of life. Thank you very kindly.

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  2. Great post. The lead in pencils isn’t actually lead, though, but graphite.

    When I was a little girl my grandfather had a plastic squeeze bottle full of powdered graphite. I remember him fixing the locking mechanism on our front door by squeezing the graphite into the lock. It has a lubricating effect. When we put our Florida home on the market, the locks on our patio doors were corroded from so much moisture they would not turn. I remembered this interaction with my grandfather and went to the hardware store to buy some graphite. A little squirt and Voila! Working locks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you are right, and I think this is part of the secondary process they were talking about. Yes, I think you can buy a little container of the stuff to lubricate things like locks, etc. I have used it but it has been a long time.

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    1. Thank you very kindly, Jennie. And yes, we do need to see that, and also to see that very simple things can become very creative if we try. One of the things I did in my creative writing class I taught was to tell the students to describe a particular color for me. Then after they puzzled a couple of minutes, I would say, “Oh yes, I forgot to tell you one important aspect. I am blind.” Things change very quickly to be really creative when you suddenly hear something like that.

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  3. Thank you kindly, Jennie. I think this is something good for children to learn too, perhaps when they grow older, but good because most of us take very simple looking products for granted. They can learn, for example, what goes into a crayon, and there is an art project with crayons and t-shirts or cloth to perhaps make pillows. The cloth is colored with crayons and then set with an iron and you can use parchment paper to lay over it when you iron. I think they have instructions on Youtube.com or perhaps on Pinterest.com, which has a lot of wonderful projects for children as well as us adults. Have a wonderful week with the kiddos.

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    1. And if you think about it, there are a lot of simple products we use every single day, so the products are far more sophisticated in manufacture and how many people are involved in creating them than we can begin to imagine. It is really kind of wonderful when we think of it. Hugs and blessings, Anne always

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  4. Thank you kindly. I used to use this for a creative writing class I taught. I told the students the first challenge was to describe a pencil. They all groaned and showed their frustration. How could a pencil be creative? So there you are. I have a lot of others along the same lines but different types of things and how we would write to someone else to describe them. They think when they come into the class, we are going to provide them with all kinds of creative materials. Creativity is what we make of it.

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