• Michael Skalka

The "Atomic" Pencil of the Future

Updated: Nov 17, 2020

I find it a lot of fun to run across advertising that predicts what will happen in the future. This ad appeared in the February 1949 issue of American Artist for Eberhard Faber pencils. The company that continues to exists as Faber-Castell. They continue to make pencils and various other art related products.


The description of this pencil destined to be made in 2049, one hundred year ahead of the time the ad was written speculates that "It may be a pencil made of a substance not yet dreamed of or a stylus filled with electronic tubes." Well, with only 30 years left to go until 2049, graphite has yet to be replaced by another material of equal or better performance. So that prophesy appears to be somewhat of a bust. The second idea has gotten a fair amount of traction. However, not with electronic tubes that in 1949 would have made pencils as wide as a steamed hot dog. While the ad authors could never have imagined the micro-miniaturization of vacuum tubes they refer to as "electronic tubes," we do have "pencils" that are capable of interacting with touch screen computers to "write" words or create drawings.


I am still a bit concerned by the inclusion of electrons whizzing in an orbit around the mysterious white vaporous pencil. Are the ad authors thinking about electronic tubes or that things like pencils and other everyday objects might someday be nuclear power? On occasion, when perusing old Popular Mechanics and similar magazines from the early post WWII era, one can find articles describing how the world of the future will be powered by "peaceful atoms." Everything including household appliances to airplanes and automobiles could be atom driven. Futurists might have predicted that Dad's trusty Studebaker for 2049 would have had its petroleum burning, manual carburetor combustion engine replaced by a plutonium power source that never, ever needed to stop for fuel. It would come in two models: Ground based and a flying version. We could all look forward to a day when accidents occurring overhead would rain down metal chunks and atomic fallout. What fun! Can't wait. For now, I'll go back to thoughts of days in elementary school when the largest problem for left handed students was when the edge of one's palm would be coated in graphite. I envied those eighth graders who were required to buy Sheaffer Ink Cartridge Pens for writing. Can you still get ink in Peacock Blue?


The Syntax of Color


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