A pencil. One of the simplest pieces of creation, seemingly. It’s used for school, business, architecture, carpentry, designing, writing famous books. A kid drops it, breaks it and you can buy a whole new pack for a couple bucks. And yet a pencil is so much more than just a piece of wood and graphite with an eraser stuck on the end.
Think about it. Where does the pencil come from? Who made it? What work went into it? Where did the materials come from?
To get to the roots of the pencil, we go to the Northern Pacific US. There, a logger cuts down a tree. But in order to cut down the tree, in order to make the pencil, he has to have a chainsaw. To make the steel chainsaw blade, you need iron ore. The list could go on and on.
Once the tree is cut, you need trucks and cranes and other equipment to get it to the mill and the factory where you get it cut to proper size. After that it’s carted off using more machinery and people to the place it gets refined and put together with the other pieces.
Graphite comes from China, Hong Kong and South America. It’s mined and taken to a facility where it’s compressed, baked and compressed again. It’s then cut into strips and sent to the same factory where the wood is waiting for it.
In another part of the country, people are combining zinc, aluminum and copper to make the feral. When finished, it’s sent to the factory where the graphite and wood await it.
In the rubber factory, the shipment of rubber has arrived, probably from Malaya. It’s then, through a complicated process, made into an eraser. It’s sent to the pencil factory.
Once all the materials are assembled, the pencil can be made. The wood, graphite, eraser and feral are glued together, packaged and sent to the store.
Can you imagine how much work it takes to make a single pencil? How many people are involved? It’s pure magic, how many people it takes to make something so small and ordinary as a pencil.
The three key words, the reason this can work, why you can have a pencil to write with are very simple—the Free Market.
It is not the best system ever and it’s certainly not faultless, but it works well if used well. It offers opportunity for instances such as pencil-making. It offers room for entrepreneurship, the key to American success.