I have always loved factory tours. Being a visual learner, I value seeing the process of how things are made, which then stays with me in a profound way.
As a little kid I very much wanted to be a lab-coat-wearing scientist inventing machines that made chocolate. I endlessly drew convoluted conveyor belt systems with raw ingredients in one end, delicious confections out the other, and a prominent switch labeled 'on/off' to make it all happen. How the transformation took place I wasn't quite sure and eventually my blueprint production waned.
But I was still entranced when years later my economics class toured the Rowntree Macintosh chocolate factory and I finally found out the inside scoop. It was so memorable that on a recent visit home, though Rowntree is long gone and a trendy mall built over it, I could still vividly see the inner factory workings and almost taste the chocolaty cloud that once enveloped the place.
Not quite so delicious, the humble pencil is also a manufacturing marvel and recently all my factory tour juices were fired up when I discovered this video of the awe-inspiring process. I was surprised to learn how much is still done by hand and to see the complex and specialized equipment involved, especially the testing lab.
Derwent is now the only pencil manufacturer in the UK and makes over 1,000 color/product combinations, from graphite pencils in all their usual gradients, to the water soluble and richly colored Inktense pencils.
Come with me on this Derwent Company factory tour. It will take less than 15 minutes of your time—a fraction of the wait for the immigration line at Heathrow. You'll also see the gorgeous landscape of the Lake District of northern England where graphite was first discovered and an early form of pencil invented by shepherds.
I know I will happily pay for the services of all these wonderful people the next time I buy a pencil—and will not see the humble pencil the same way again.
A History of Derwent
- 1500s - Graphite found in Borrowdale in the Lake District
- 1832 - First recorded factory manufacturing pencils in Keswick, Cumbria
- 1981 - The Cumberland Pencil Museum opens in Keswick, Cumbria
- 2008 - The company moves to a purpose built factory in Workington, Cumbria