Pencils have been around for a long time, but before the pencil sharpener, most of them where whittled with a knife to get them sharp. In 1897, one man grew tired of this process and decided to do something about it. Working as a carpenter in Massachusetts, John Lee Love developed a portable pencil sharpener that would let virtually anyone be able to sharpen their own pencils without any whittling skills.
Not much is known about the life of this inventor. It is notable that his invention mentions that his pencil sharpener is an improved device, so other pencil sharpeners may have been on the market at the time. What we do know, however, is that he did make several inventions during his life that was tragically ended in 1931 when his car was struck by a train.
Love Would Not Have Had an Easy Life
Based on the information that we know about Love, he would have been born just a few years after the US Civil War. Although citizenship and equal legal protections were signed into law, most of the country, especially in the South, was still segregated and would be until the Civil Rights Movement nearly a century later. As an African American inventor, Love would struggle to have any of his work recognized by many American population demographics.
Simply put, many people wouldn’t use his inventions because he was black and they were not.
Growing up in the North would have been easier than in the South, but even so, Love would still face the tensions and disadvantages of not being of the majority race. Education and commerce were difficult to obtain, so the fact that he managed his own business over the course of his life is a testament to his ingenuity, even if we don’t fully know everything about this African American inventor of the pencil sharpener.
The Invention of the Plasterer’s Hawk
Plasterers and masons use a hawk in the course of their work. Love’s design was unique in that it had an aluminum board that was foldable. This allowed for the hawk to be portable, which wasn’t possible at the time of its invention in 1895. The handle would also detach from the hawk, making it a lot easier to pack so that it could be transported to a work site. It could then spread plaster or mortar over the item that was being constructed, allowing for a faster application.
There is a good chance that, as a carpenter, Love invented numerous items that he simply didn’t try to patent or sell. Although these ideas have been mostly lost to history, there are still some traces of Love’s ingenuity that can be felt every day. Every portable pencil sharpener that is used today is based in some way from his original improvements. This allowed writing to become easier and ultimately a simple way for everyone to express their creativity in their own unique way.