Sunday, February 5, 2017

Ticonderoga - Pencils and Wars - column

Mack Hall, HSG

Ticonderoga – Pencils and Wars

Ticonderoga, New York, is a small town on Lake Champlain, across from Vermont. Ticonderoga is said to be a Mohawk word indicating a river landing or river port. In colonial times the French built a fort there to guard the frontier against the English. Then the English took the fort from the French. Then Yank revolutionaries took it from the English. Then the English took it back. Then the Yanks got it back again after the 1783 Treaty of Paris, and then they made pencils there.

Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point were important because of the north-south axis of Lake Champlain, which facilitated transportation – and invasion – between Montreal and New York. Now that we’re all friends and have roads and airplanes, Ticonderoga and its restored fort are quiet places to visit. Fort Carillon / Ticonderoga is not some sort of amusement park imagining; it is a big old star fort of French design (

Once upon a time a child could write about Ticonderoga in his Big Chief tablet with a #2 Ticonderoga pencil, and he still can, only now his All-American Yankee Doodle We Can Do It Ticonderoga pencil is made in China, Italy, German, or South America, not Ticonderoga, and the Big Chief tablet is no more.

The various successor companies were bought by Fila-Fabbricca Italiana Lapis Ed Affini S.p.A. in 2004 and who ended pencil production in Ticonderoga.

According to Dixon Ticonderoga, “This acquisition allowed for many synergies between the two companies creating a global, vertically-integrated, premier education supply company. (

Okay, class, can anyone tell us what “many synergies” means? How about “global, vertically-integrated?” Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? And no one can, because all that is puffy filler language devoid of meaning. Sounds impressive, though.

A pencil is made from wood and a mixture of clay and graphite. Apparently the first pencils were invented in England in the Middle Ages (said to be the Dark Ages, and of course at night things were dark but by day people were doing all sorts of things, like inventing pencils and writing with them).

Yankee Doodles made doodling all the better in the 19th century by developing the pencil as we know it, complete, in the latter part of the century, with an eraser.

Cedar is popular for pencils not because of its happy scent, but because it is less prone than other woods to fragmenting while being sharpened. Even so, the smell of cedar is a magic time tunnel which sends us back, if even for a moment, to the first grade. In illo tempore a tablet was a Big Chief tablet, no batteries required, and a stylus was a #2 Ticonderoga with which a boy or girl could make whole worlds and light them up with pictures and stories that did not need storing in the clouds because they came from the clouds.


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