Today is National Rubber Eraser Day! Why should we care about this unofficial holiday, you may ask? Why give recognition to a little piece of rubber that can be found in almost every child's school desk and backpack or in our own homes and offices? If this little piece of rubber eraser had never been invented would it really change the world, as we know it today? I didn't know. So, I decided to look into this idea a little more and I'd love to share with you what I found out and why it matters.
Edward Nairne, an English engineer, is credited with making and marketing the first rubber eraser in 1770. In 1858, a Philadelphian, named Hymen Lipman, received a patent on a pencil that he had a rubber eraser affixed to the top. Even though his patent was tossed out because it was not an entirely new invention but a composite of two previously patented inventions - the pencil and rubber eraser. To this day the use of pencils with the rubber eraser affixed atop them this is unique to the USA. Most European pencils are without rubber erasers. Does this pencil preference say anything about the cultural differences between Americans and Europeans? Maybe it doesn't, but it could make for an interesting discussion.
An interesting side note is that the manufacturers of pencils do not call them "rubber erasers," they call them “plugs”.
Now, going back to my opening question. If we didn't have the rubber eraser what would our world be like today? Would it be a world full of disease, rodents, bugs, and pestilence? Perhaps it would be! Because before the rubber eraser was invented, people used moist little balls of bread, yes I said bread, to remove marks of graphite. With all of that bread rolled up into moist, yeasty little balls, can you imagine what our children's desks and backpacks would smell like after a few days or weeks or worse after the whole school year. It is bread, after all, so it would rot and mold and the likelihood of maggots and flies could have been exponential, which would lead to spreading who knows what kinds of disease throughout the country or even the world.
So on this National Rubber Eraser Day I personally applaud and am thankful that almost 245 years ago the rubber eraser was invented. After all - "To err is human" - we all need to erase a little something every now and then.