Autopoint Mechanical Pencil

Autopoint Mechanical Pencil

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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,"
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
Autopoint, Inc.
place made
United States: Illinois, Chicago
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
metal (overall material)
plastic (overall material)
overall: 1.7 cm x 15.2 cm x 2 cm; 21/32 in x 5 31/32 in x 25/32 in
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Credit Line
Gift of the Hollerith Family
writing implements
See more items in
Medicine and Science: Mathematics
Pens and Pencils
Computers & Business Machines
Science & Mathematics
Data Source
National Museum of American History
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I doubt very much whether this pencil is plastic. Rather, the non-metal parts are actually made of bakelite. Rub it with a paper towel, If the paper towel turns color, it's bakelite! Most Autopoint pencils were made of bakelite from about 1920 to about 1940. The reason Bakelite "owned an interest" in Autopoint was most likely because Autopoint couldn't afford to pay cash for all the bakelite material they needed to make pencils!
I worked in the office products industry from 1957 through 2003. At one interval I was employed as a pen salesman. (1961-1985) In my collection of vintage pens & pencils exists the exact same Autopoint pencil featured above. This pencil is in excellent condition and the propel mechanism as you have defined is fully functional. Incidentally, the lead diameter is 1.1 mm .

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