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A high-speed sanding belt rubs against the pencils.

©CHRISTOPHER PAYNE/ESTO/GENERAL PENCIL COMPANY

The Write Stuff

Scholastic editor Alexa Kurzius visited a factory to find out how machines help make pencils.

Since kindergarten, I’ve been writing with a pencil. But I’d never thought about how pencils are made. That changed when I visited General Pencil Company in Jersey City, New Jersey.

General Pencil is the oldest pencil company in the United States. It has been making pencils for more than 100 years. It’s also one of the last pencil factories in the U.S.

The company’s president is Katie Weissenborn Vanoncini. Her great-great-grandfather Edward Weissenborn trained as a mechanical engineer. He designed 360 machines and processes involved in making pencils. Many are still in use at General Pencil today. I saw them during my visit, and it reminded me how well-designed machines can last a long time.

Each of the factory’s large machines is made up of many simple machines. These devices use basic physical principles to make work easier. Electric motors power the factory and move the pencil parts through each step.

Weissenborn Vanoncini thinks of her family often at the factory. “As my great-great-grandfather taught us,” she says, “engineers always try to make things better and solve problems.”

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