Geek Trivia

The Traditional Yellow Color Of American Pencils Is A Nod To?

The Ukrainian Flag
The English Crown Jewels
The Orient
The Interior Of Nuclear Reactor Cores Glow What Color?

Answer: The Orient

At first glance, it would be easy to look at a bright yellow #2 pencil and simply write off the cheery color as the way things are. Perhaps pencils are simply yellow because school buses are yellow and children love primary colors. The truth behind how yellow pencils became ubiquitous in America is a bit more complicated, however.

Way back at the 1889 World Fair in Paris, a pencil company from Austria-Hungary named Hardtmuth displayed a new pencil called the Koh-I-Noor Hardtmuth that featured a cedar-wood barrel, a lead made from a combination of clay and graphite, and a bright yellow paint job. The name of the pencil and the color was designed to evoke a sense of luxury. The name was a nod to the Indian diamond, the Koh-I-Noor, that was, at the time, the largest diamond in the world. The diamond was then, and remains, part of the Crown Jewels of England. The color choice was a nod to Oriental (Siberian) graphite—it was widely held at the time that the best pencil graphite in the world was of Asian origin, and yellow was closely associated with the Orient by people in the West.

American companies, seeking to capitalize on the association between the yellow paint job and the very high quality pencils produced by the Hardtmuth company, quickly copied their paint scheme and splashed their pencils with a bright coat of yellow paint. Eventually, the color became so closely associated with pencils that the majority of pencils produced in the United States still bear the bright color.