Slate Pencils, Box of 5

These five slate pencils are wrapped in paper decorated like the American flag and stored in a cardboard box with an American flag design. In the 19th century, schoolchildren used pencils made from a soft stone or slate to write letters and numbers on their slates, personal-sized blackboards. Students wiped away their work after it was checked by the teacher; reusable slates were thus less expensive than large quantities of paper, and slate pencils were generally more available than chalk. In the United States, slate pencils were manufactured at least as early as 1844 and at least as late as the 1910s.
Edith R. Meggers of Washington, D.C., bequeathed this box of pencils to the Smithsonian in 1974. The dates of other objects in her bequest suggest these pencils were made around 1900. Meggers worked in the Building Technology Division of the National Bureau of Standards in the 1950s and 1960s. She and her husband endowed the William F. and Edith R. Meggers Project Award of the American Institute of Physics, which funds projects for the improvement of high-school physics teaching in the United States.
References: Early Office Museum, "History of the Lead Pencil,"; Peter Davies, "Writing Slates and Schooling," Australasian Historical Archaeology 23 (2005): 63–69; Charlotte E. Moore, "Meggers, William Frederick," Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography (2008),; Edith R. Meggers, Selected Bibliography on Building Construction and Maintenance, 3rd ed., National Bureau of Standards Building Materials and Structures Report 140 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1959).
Currently not on view
Object Name
pencils, group of 5
date made
ca 1900
Physical Description
slate (overall material)
cardboard (box material)
overall: 1 cm x 3.6 cm x 15 cm; 13/32 in x 1 13/32 in x 5 29/32 in
place made
United States
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
Science & Mathematics
writing implements
Pens and Pencils
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Pens and Pencils
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Gift of Edith R. Meggers
Additional Media

Visitor Comments

Add a comment about this object

**Please read before submitting the form**

Have a comment or question about this object to share with the community? Please use the form below. Selected comments will appear on this page and may receive a museum response (but we can't promise). Please note that we generally cannot answer questions about the history, rarity, or value of your personal artifacts.

Have a question about anything else, or would you prefer a personal response? Please visit our FAQ or contact page.

Personal information will not be shared or result in unsolicited e-mail. See our privacy policy.

Enter the characters shown in the image.