Reading last week's newspaper about the school supplies fairs and wondered whatever happen to the basic item of my childhood - the pencil.
My hometown's single industry was Mallard's Pencil Factory. When one entered the first grade, every student was given a #2 pencil, compliments of the company. They were yellow, with an eraser and embossed with a Mallard duck. The number indicated the hardness of the lead, which is actually graphite.
This lowly instrument provided employment for our local citizens, and the same for others of different lands who contibuted the raw materials for production.
The tin for the furl to fasten the eraser to the wood came from Bolivia. The 'rubber' for the eraser was a synthetic created to replace raw rubber, an ingredient, for which may have been produced at Old Colonel Distillery at Stamping Ground, KY. The graphite for the 'lead' was mined in Canada. The wood to encase the core was harvested and processed on our own shores. The availability of materials within the Americas aided the manufacture of pencils, when supplies from the Far East were cut off by the conflict in the Pacific.
This brief paragraph does not include all those who were involved in transporting the materials to get the pencil into the hands of eager, long ago school children, but it does provide the foundation of basic global economics.
The analogy is not original, I condensed it to 78 words, from memory, with the aid of Google to pinpoint sources of the raw materials during the 1940s, for the purpose of the article. It belongs to Milton and Rose Friedman, from their book, Free to Choose. The book was compiled from their acclaimed Public Television series of the same title.
The late Armand Hammer used his business, family, and political connections to keep open a thin dialogue for peace between seven Soviet Generals and five United States presidents on the strength of a pencil concession. The Soviets, of the time, were able to duplicate the manufacturing process for many common US items, but never for the pencil.
Our best goes to each student, who may discover a pencil is adequate to put words and sums on paper. It's not subject to dead batteries or power outages, and is cost effective to replace.
Nash Black, author of Games of Death.