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About William Munroe
William Munroe (December 15, 1778 – March 6, 1861) was a prominent cabinet-maker and pencil manufacturer of Concord, Massachusetts.
When the War of 1812 starter, there were many embargo laws enforced and basically little trading with Europe in general. His cabinet-making business was all but rubbed out as the New England economy was in a recession at the time. It turned out little importation of European products came to America because of the war. There was a sharp incentive to make items in New England that were normally made in Europe. Many products were scarce and much rewarded for those that could produce them in America. Munroe figured there had to be a way to exploit this concept so thought of some ideas of things he could make. Being practical he first produced cabinetmaker’s squares since he already had skills in this area and it would be easy for him to make these. He did his level best selling them at a fair price, however competition eventually made his business decline. He then noticed the scarcity of imported pencils and the high price that people paid for them. Munroe figured that making these for people was a financial opportunity.
Straight away Munroe obtained a few lumps of black graphite which he beat to a pulp with a hammer. He separated the fine particles that floated to the top of the water with a spoon and mixed them with a clay solution. His first experiments with this lead solution was not very successful. He continued making cabinet maker’s squares and sold the few he could of these. In this time he continued experimenting with graphite lead for pencils with little accomplishment. He had no knowledge of the subject and feared consulting others as they might take the idea and produce pencils themselves. Munroe continued experimenting in secret with graphite powder formulas on his own. Eventually he figured a way to come up with a suitable graphite paste formula of various ingredients that could be poured into a slotted line made in some cedar wood blanks. The pencil centers would be his secret formula of a mixture of dried graphite paste of clay and other unknown ingredients. They were air dried and not hardened by firing in a furnace as Europeans did, so the quality was not as good as theirs—but it was fine enough to write with.
On July 2, 1812, he had produced about thirty pencils and sold them to a Benjamin Andrews, a hardware dealer on Union Street in downtown Boston. These were the first wooden-cased graphite lead pencils manufactured in the United States.]Andrews was a previous customer of Munroe’s, to whom he had sold cabinetmaker’s squares. He ordered more immediately, which Munroe proceeded to grind out. Munroe showed up at Andrew’s hardware store with over four hundred pencils less than two weeks later. Andrews then wrote up a contract with Munroe to take for a price all the pencils that he could make in a certain time frame.
Munroe had then made a business out of making lead pencils. He made the graphite formula for his pencils in secret, with only the help of his wife. The business was quite successful.