New Jersey's General Pencil Pours Its Heart Into Art

One Daughter Who Wouldn't Give Up on the Family Business
Video by Tyler Ribble

A rhythmic mechanical whir emanates from the basement of a century-old brick building on Fleet Street in a Jersey City neighborhood that's gentrifying as luxury lofts take over factories.

The painted words on the rear of this building not only proclaim what is still inside -- General Pencil Company -- they also hint at the factory's long history, with sturdy, tall white letters in a serif type often used as the 1800s turned to the 20th century.

The sound is the revolving cylinder of a ball mill softening graphite with river rocks -- the first step to make the cores that form the "lead" of a pencil. Step inside and some rooms give off aromas of the forest from the incense cedar that wraps around the graphite cores.

General Pencil has been making pencils here since its founder Edward Weissenborn left his first pencil endeavor -- The American Lead Pencil Co., which he opened in Hoboken in 1860 -- and moved the ball mill to the "new factory" here in 1889.

But even if General's pencil-making process is still defined by the 28 patents Weissenborn filed in the late 1800s on machines that date back to that time, the strategy for how a pencil company survives in a world of screens and keyboards is 21st century.

General Pencil Company Jersey City
Tyler Ribble