From Pencil to Smart Pen: What would N.J. Conté Think Today?

Portrait of N.J. Conté
Nicholas Jacques Conté
Inventor of the Modern Pencil

It’s hard to believe that it was just over 200 years ago when a French officer in Napoleon’s army invented and patented the first quality pencil. In 1795, Nicholas Jacques Conté (N.J. Conté) mixed ground graphite with clay to produce lead for pencils. He then formed them into sticks and cooked them in a kiln.

For the next 200 years after Conté’s invention, back-to-school supplies remained largely unchanged as some paper, a pencil or two, and a backpack were enough to satisfy the requirements. How simple it was in the “good ol’ days,” back before technology infiltrated every aspect of our lives.

Perhaps the most drastic change has been for the college student where laptops are mandatory and the accessories that accompany them such as printers, ink, and memory sticks are required to work efficiently. The back-to-school shopping trip has changed from a quick trip to the local discount store to a day at the electronics store preceded by careful research and comparison shopping.

To complicate matters even more, the tech-savvy student can now find such inventions as the Smart Pen that can capture everything you write and say and digitally transfer it to a PC. They might also procure a Kindle or other eReader to view their text books online rather than lugging them to class and back each day. Even newer technology such as the laptop is becoming obsolete as it is replaced by lightweight tablets and wi-fi ready smart phones.

Wouldn’t N.J. Conté be surprised today if someone handed him a Smart Pen? Of course he would (we are!), but more likely, he would be thrilled and inspired by the innovation that is all around us, just like any good inventor would be.