Today's anniversary of the pencil eraser

On today's date, 1858, Hymen Lipman was granted a patent for attaching a piece of rubber to the end of a pencil. While it was certainly a stroke of genius, the courts didn't think it to be as groundbreaking as one might think. From Smithsonian:
Unfortunately for Lipman, the patent would later be revoked, when the U.S. Supreme Court rules in 1875 that a pencil with an eraser is just a pencil with an eraser and not a new invention.
Hymen L. Lipman makes his mark in pencil history

For more than you ever wanted to know about the history of the pencil, don't miss Henry Petroski's book The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstances.


  1. Well, I guess my pencil chainsaw doesn’t have much of a chance then. Better call my inventor patent guy.

    Also, Hymen Lipman?

  2. And if patent law was treated in the same way today, we’d have far fewer patent trolls…

  3. The inventor of the eraser at the other end of the pencil was called Hymen Lipman and you can’t wait till Wednesday, April 1st?

  4. While I can understand that a pencil with an eraser on it is just a pencil with an eraser on it, it seems to me that he deserved a design patent at least. After all, nobody had done it before.

  5. djfiander-
    you can get a design patent on virtually anything that doesn’t violate some else’s design patent, if it hasn’t been thrust into the public domain (like I did with my OctoWeenie Slicer).

  6. Well, now I have a name for my future child. And a name of someone to look up to, at that. Anyone know a single Lipman?

  7. @thelibrarianne: A Single Lipman? sorry, Lipman’s only come in pairs.


    I realize this isn’t actually funny if you think about it for more than a half a second.

  8. 1) Mr. Hymen Lipman was the first to think of sticking a rubber on the end of a stick and he was surprised he got fucked by the patent orifice? Different times indeed.

    2) Didn’t he used to pal around with IP Freely and Heywood Jablowbe?

    3) With a name like that I wouldn’t be too surprised to find out he remained single, actually. After all, who would voluntarily become Mrs. Hymen Lipman?

    4) We used to have pencils and erasers as separate things, and we liked it that way! What’s the world coming to..? (*wanders off muttering*)

  9. 5) He also invented the clit board.

    6) His patents would have been accepted, but he was too much of a… well, you know.

    7) Later he ended up working in the cervix industry.

    8) This is true proof that the Noodley One has a sense of humor: Here in Austin there is a urologist (surgeon who performs vasectomies) named Dr. Dick Chop. We also have a female Ob/Gyn by the name of Dr. Cherry. Again, I am not making this up.

  10. @12 and in your line of work you charge service rates that make people swear. (I REFUSE TO APOLOGIZE!)

  11. @9, don’t discredit yourself, I LOL’d.

    BTW, it seems to me the patent office could still reverse this mistake, if only there were some sort of invention that rub out this injustice….

  12. so the title of this should be today is the anniversary of the pencil eraser. not like its today’s anniversary (implying possession of the anniversary)*

    Also, really? do we care anything about this besides his name?

    * (yes I am a certified officer of the grammar police)

  13. But not, apparently, the capitalization or punctuation police…also: “Today’s” can be possessive or a contraction of ‘Today is’ (and leaving out the ‘the’ isn’t unusual in headline writing).

    In addition, it’s a fairly standard format for a title to be a noun phrase (sometimes it’s a sentence, but then a sentence can be used as a noun phrase, so there you have it). It’s only slightly unusual for it to be possessive. Other titles that are possessive phrases include “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”

  14. 9) And he was all set with a marketing slogan: “Nobody gets the lead out like ‘ol Hymen.”

    10) He had 3 brothers: Harry (who went by the nickname Fat), Chappy, and Dontgimmeno.

  15. @jrishel: I laughed for at least 5 seconds. Kudos.

    @phikus: Good God man(woman?), you are a machine!

  16. Surely the patent wasn’t just for the idea of putting an eraser on a pencil, but for the ferrule and the way that it did the attaching. Also, I am glad I finally get a chance to use ferrule in a sentence.

  17. I just say “Know ferrules and follow then!”

    (It isn’t? Drat.)

    I know! Ferrules are those things kinda like a weasel that some people keep as…

    (No? Rats.)

    Ferrules are the laws of magnetism that govern…

    (What? You’re kidding. OK, I give up.)

  18. I’m going to a Dr. Lipman tomorrow to take a look at my busted ear drum. I’ll ask him if he has any relation to Hymen.

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