Last week we took a day off of our regular pencil duties to go on a very special adventure just across the river from our NYC office. We spent a very graphite-covered afternoon at the legendary General Pencil Company in Jersey City, NJ, where the company has been based since the late 1800s.
General's has occupied the 4-story brick and mortar factory for nearly 100 years (they'll be celebrating the building anniversary soon!). The factory itself is delightfully tinged with graphite, saw dust, and paint, and is populated by super-friendly pencil makers, several of whom have been with General's for decades.
Our first stop was the ground floor, where General's graphite is born, to learn about how the company mixes it's special blend of ingredients. We were fortunate to pass by the station where raw lengths of graphite are hand-cut into rectangles by Larry. Raw graphite is satisfyingly soft and wobbly, like al dente spaghetti.
It was impressive to see just how hands-on General's processes are - for example, their soft white pencil cores are laid gently into their cedar wood sandwich and glued together totally by hand.
Other manufacturing steps were more familiar from our visit to Caran d'Ache in 2016, such as the pencil painting conveyer belt, where pencils are shot two at a time through a vat of paint and come out a familiar shade of yellow on the other side.
Another favorite step was the finishing department, where pencils receive their General's branding stamped brightly on their sides. This process is managed by their longest-term employee MaryAnn, who has been with the company for over 50 years. Amazingly, a lot of their type is laid in letter by letter, a process with which our custom pencil expert Alyx is terribly familiar. Future goals: get Alyx an apprenticeship under MaryAnn.
A big thank you to Jim and his granddaughter Kirsten for organizing this visit for us! We had a spectacular time. (Especially Caroline, who fulfilled her dream of sticking her hand into a bucket of ferrules.)
Check out our Instagram story from that special day: