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.

The Life of a Pencil

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Photo courtesy Pexels.

I learned this little really interesting lesson many years ago from my amazing friend, Spencer Heath MacCallum.

Every time you purchase a pencil, do you know how many people you are employing?  Start with the wood of the pencil. There have to be loggers who cut the wood, and then truckers who haul it to some factory.  Then there are the factory workers who form the wood for the pencil into its familiar shape.

Then there are those who paint the outsides of the pencils, and those who imprint it with the type of lead (the size, and perhaps the brand name, etc.).  Then there is the little metal piece that holds the rubber eraser.  OK, it is some kind of metal that (likely tin) that has to be mined and then processed, perhaps through many processes to make that holder.  Then it too goes via trucks or perhaps trains to a factory where it is shaped and formed into the piece that will hold the eraser onto the pencil.  And then there is the machinery that performs all those magical tasks, and the people who run those machines.  And of course there is the rubber.

It is growing in the forests in some country where it then is gathered as a liquid, and again, it is processed, and then dyed, as I think rubber in its natural state would not be pink (or other contemporary eraser colors), and it is formed and shaped into those little erasers.  Then there is the lead, and again, lead must be mined, carried to trucks or trains (as are all of these parts) where it is then taken to be processed for formed into the lead that becomes the innermost part of the pencil.

And then all of this must be assembled. Now a great part of the process might be to do these things automatically via machines, but then someone had to make the machines, and someone had to maintain them, and someone else has to run them.  And of course there are the quality control people.  And then the packaging people.  And then the people who take the orders and know where the pencils will go.  And then the pencils are loaded onto trucks and delivered to the places.  Of course, people have to build these trucks and they have to be maintained, and they have to have gas and oil.

Once delivered, the stocking people have to note them into the inventory, and then they get put onto the shelves, where the sales people might just help you to find them, and even if not, you will take them to the cash register to pay for them, so this is the end step that I can think of in the life of the pencil.

Doesn’t this make you feel good to know how many people you are helping to keep employed every time you buy that simple little pencil?  All of this for less than $1.00.