Autopoint Mechanical Pencil


This 5-3/4" black plastic and chrome-plated mechanical pencil is marked near its top: CHICAGO Autopoint USA (/) PATD AND PATS PEND. The word "Autopoint" is in script. The end of the pencil above the mark uncaps to reveal an eraser. A metal clip allows the pencil to be secured in a shirt pocket. The pen is stored in a rectangular gray cardboard box marked: Pencil Used by H H sr. (c[h]rome plated).

Autopoint began manufacturing mechanical pencils in Chicago in 1918. Inventors assigned at least 30 patents to Autopoint between 1918 and 1929. One of the patents referred to on this pencil was taken out by Frank Deli of Chicago, for a metal pin that screwed into a threaded cylinder inside the pencil tip and thus acted to propel the lead. The diameter of the pin suggests the lead width was about 1 mm. The body of the pencil was to be made from bakelite or a similar plastic. Deli applied for his patent in 1921, although it was not granted until 1925. Bakelite, the plastics manufacturer, owned an interest in Autopoint from the 1920s to the 1940s. After several corporate acquisitions and reorganizations, Autopoint moved to Janesville, Wisc., in 1979, where it continues operations.

His daughter-in-law reported that Herman Hollerith Sr. owned this pencil. Hollerith (1860–1929) trained as a mining engineer. He joined the U.S. Census Office in 1879, where he pioneered the development of punch cards for tabulating machines. These machines dramatically sped up the processing of data in the 1890 census. In 1896 he founded the Tabulating Machine Company, which merged with three other companies in 1911 and became the International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in 1924. Hollerith retired in 1921 and raised cattle on a farm in Maryland until his death, so he presumably acquired the pencil during his retirement. For depictions and examples of Hollerith machines, see 1977.0503.01, 1977.0503.02, and 2011.3121.01, MA.312896, MA.335634, MA.335635, and MA.333894. See also the NMAH object group on tabulating machines,

References: Autopoint, Inc., "About Us,"; Frank C. Deli, "Pencil" (U.S. Patent 1,552,123 issued September 1, 1925); Robert L. Bolin, "Web Resources Concerning the Mechanical Pencil Industry in Chicago,"; William R. Aul, "Herman Hollerith: Data Processing Pioneer," Think, November 1972,; United States Census Bureau, "Herman Hollerith,"

Date Made: 1921-1929

Maker: Autopoint, Inc.

Location: Currently not on view

Place Made: United States: Illinois, Chicago

Subject: Mathematicswriting implements


See more items in: Medicine and Science: Mathematics, Pens and Pencils, Computers & Business Machines, Science & Mathematics


Exhibition Location:

Credit Line: Gift of the Hollerith Family

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: 1977.0503.03Catalog Number: 336122Accession Number: 1977.0503

Object Name: pencil

Physical Description: paper (overall material)metal (overall material)plastic (overall material)Measurements: overall: 1.7 cm x 15.2 cm x 2 cm; 21/32 in x 5 31/32 in x 25/32 in


Record Id: nmah_1213838

Our collection database is a work in progress. We may update this record based on further research and review. Learn more about our approach to sharing our collection online.

If you would like to know how you can use content on this page, see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use. If you need to request an image for publication or other use, please visit Rights and Reproductions.