What Made Us Who We Are Today
General Pencil Company is a family owned business. It has been owned and operated by the Weissenborn family since 1889. Edward Weissenborn, a brilliant mechanical engineer, founded one of the first pencil factories in America. He learned the art of pencil making in Germany while working for the I.I. Renbach Lead Pencil Company. In 1854, he came to America to establish his own pencil factory. In 1860 he accomplished just that.
After assisting in the design and construction of the Civil War battleship, the USS Monitor, Edward set up his pencil factory in Jersey City Heights, New Jersey. It was called the American Pencil Company.
The American Pencil Company quickly earned a reputation for producing quality pencils. They received hundreds of letters praising their products, including letters from four members of President Lincoln’s cabinet. In 1866, letters of commendation were received from the Governor of New York and the Mayor of New York City.
In 1885, the American Pencil Company was sold to the Reckford Family so that Edward could pursue his love for naval engineering. Four years later, in 1889, Oscar A. Weissenborn, Edward’s son, followed in his father’s footsteps by founding his own pencil company. He began making pencils in a large room of the family home in Jersey City, New Jersey. He set up his own machine shop because at the time it was impossible to buy pencil making equipment. The following year Oscar rented a floor over a grocery, and in 1891 he rented an old mansion for a factory. He called the operation the “Pencil Exchange”. In 1914 he moved into his own factory in Jersey City.
World War I nearly killed the fledgling Pencil Exchange. The British blockade made it impossible for pencil manufacturers to get lead from Germany. The British put into effect an Orders-in-Council prohibiting American importers from obtaining any German products – even if they were paid for with American money and lying in neutral ports awaiting shipment. An emergency meeting of importers was held in 1915 in New York City where Oscar Weissenborn took the lead in presenting the views of the pencil industry. He called the British order:
“The most outrageous invasion of the rights of the United States of America in its peaceful trade relations in non-contraband articles, being a curtailment of the commerce of the sea, contrary to all international law and custom.”
His speech was widely quoted in the American Press, and it came to the attention of the British authorities. Oscar went to Washington to plead his case at the British Embassy, but the British were adamant. This left the American pencil manufacturers unable to get their leads out of Germany. Oscar experimented and came up with a way to make his own leads. Many of General Pencil’s unique drawing formulas were created in those years.
In December of 1923 his operation became General Pencil Company. In 1927, his son, Oscar E. Weissenborn, entered the family business. Later his three sons, Oscar A., James, and F. Hill entered the family business.
In 1965, General Pencil expanded operations into California to become closer to the incense cedar supply and to the Western markets it was developing. Oscar A. Weissenborn took over as President in the 1970’s, and James Weissenborn became CEO in 1979. James expanded the product line, James has led the company since then, and continues to inspire creative and innovative products for the fine artist along with his daughter and granddaughter.
In 2008 General Pencil was featured on the Modern Marvels Carbon episode, showing how a pencil is made at the General Pencil factory. In 2016 General Pencil Company was featured on ABC News with David Muir.