Tennessee pencil maker keeps tradition of Pencil City U.S.A. ali

Tennessee pencil maker keeps tradition of Pencil City U.S.A. alive

Posted:
Raford Hulan is a third generation pencil maker. His grandfather, James Raford Musgrave, started the company. Raford Hulan is a third generation pencil maker. His grandfather, James Raford Musgrave, started the company.
The company makes nearly a quarter million pencils a day. The company makes nearly a quarter million pencils a day.
The company's building in Shelbyville. The company's building in Shelbyville.
Wet sandwiches are two pieces of wood glued together with graphite inside. Wet sandwiches are two pieces of wood glued together with graphite inside.

SHELBYVILLE (WATE) - Tennessee is rich in history, but did you know we are also home to "Pencil City U.S.A.?"  

In the 1950s, then-governor, Buford Ellington gave Shelbyville that title. At the time there were as many as five major pencil manufacturers there. Now there is just one - Musgrave Pencil Company.

Chances are we have all used a pencil. It is considered the basic writing instrument. But have you ever thought about how one is really made? 

We went to Musgrave Pencil Company, where they make nearly a quarter million pencils a day, to find out.

Raford Hulan is a third-generation pencil maker. His grandfather, James Raford Musgrave, started the company.   

Originally they just produced slats, often considered the first component in making a pencil.  But Hulan says it didn't take long for that to change.

"After a while, he decided there was probably more money in making pencils than actually producing slats," Hulan said.

Today, Musgrave makes carpenter pencils, round pencils, six-sided pencils, customized pencils, even foiled-wrapped designer pencils.

The process is basically the same for each one. Hulan walked us through the production line, explaining the process of starting with two wooden slats. 

Then grooves are cut into the wood for graphite.

Next each side gets slathered with glue before the graphite is put in place and another piece of wood is placed on top, making what they call a wet sandwich. 

Those sandwiches are clamped down for a minimum of five hours before they are separated into pencils. 

From there it is on to the painting room, where anywhere from two to six pencils at a time are pushed through paint pots.  

At least one machine still in use was actually built by Hulan's family almost a hundred years ago. 

"These are some of the ones we made ourselves when my grandfather brought over machines form Germany for us to copy," Hulan said.

Some pencils moved on for hot stamp printing, while others get wrapped before they are capped off with an eraser.

Each and every step has someone overseeing the process and inspecting for quality. After all, for this family and many in this town, a pencil is much more than just something to write with.

Musgrave sells wholesale to big businesses and the pencils are purchased in bulk by school systems across our country.

Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and WATE. All Rights Reserved.
For more information on this site, please read our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.