You’d be challenged to find an invention that didn’t start as a pencil scrawling, whether on a napkin or notepad or envelope. The pencil, with its familiar scent and nostalgia, persists as a practical and invaluable tool to creators of all types today. But who thought up the very idea from which so many other ideas are born?
Hymen L. Lipman registered the first patent for a lead pencil, with an attached eraser for edits and revisions, on March 30, 1858. Before Lipman’s all-in-one innovation, clunky erasers only accompanied pencils (hardly convenient for the ravenous thinker driven by creative momentum). Lipman’s attached eraser could be sharpened, in addition to the lead.
As a boy, Lipman immigrated to the United States from Jamaica, with his English parents, and settled in Philadelphia, PA for the remainder of his life. In 1840, he took over as the lead stationer in the city, succeeding Samuel M. Stewart. He would go on to start the first envelope company in the U.S.
Lipman sold his patent to Joseph Reckendorfer for $100,000 in 1862. Sometimes, innovation is about marrying two existing things to create a more efficient, better way. Next time you scribble a sketch on an envelope, think of Lipman, a man with great vision who gave us the essential tools for making.