Tuesday, November 8, 2011
At one of our stops, tucked back in a corner behind a stack of old magazines, was a small chest of drawers filled with pens and pencils -- not Parkers or Watermans, but mostly Wearevers, dip pens, advertising pencils and that sort of fare. Was it worth sorting through? What the heck, I thought, I'm on vacation!
A few interesting things did pop out of that mess of stuff, including this piece. I wasn't even sure what it was (I actually thought it was a tire gauge of some sort), but for the buck or two it cost, I thought if nothing else, when I figured out what it was I'd have a neat story. And I knew I'd be able to figure out what it was, because in addition to the words "Tweeten Fibre Co./Chicago-No. 620" around the top, at the bottom it read "Made in U.S.A. Pat. 2285630."
After we got home, I hit up the patent database, and discovered that this thing is ... drum roll ... a pencil. Oscar Tweeten, of Chicago, was in the billiards supply business, but it was his love of bowling that gives him his five minutes of fame in the pencil world. Oscar must have bowled a lot, so much in fact that he focused on the finer points of the game. He even wanted to enhance the experience of writing down his scores.
"Usually bowling scores are marked with a relatively large colored crayon," he wrote in his patent application, "in which the crayon is either entirely unwrapped or wrapped only with a thin sheet of paper and which causes the crayon to soil the hands and also to waste considerable crayon by reason of the fact that when a substantial part of the crayon is still unused that it is not sufficiently long to use the same conveniently."
In layman's terms, he didn't like getting crayon on his fingers and it bugged him to use the stubby little pieces (whether he was wearing them down or breaking them in half after a gutter ball).
So Oscar saw a need, and the Tweeten bowling score pencil was the invention that arose from that necessity. This is a substantial piece: a full 7/16" in diameter and 5 1/2" long, which may give it the distinction of being about the biggest ringtop pencil on record. By the way, this ringtop never hung around the neck of a bowler. It was for a chain to attach it to a "bowling score board."
Think you're going to use 2 mm lead in this wonder? Forget about it! The Tweeten is designed to eat quarter inch crayons for lunch.
Oscar filed his patent application on May 3, 1940, and his patent was granted on June 9, 1942. As for the Tweeten Fibre Co., it is still in business in Chicago. According to the company's president, Skip Nemecek, his grandfather started a billiards products supply company in Chicago more than 85 years ago. Oscar Tweeten founded a similar company, and the two merged some time ago, carrying on under the Tweeten name. Tweeten's website has a picture posted of Skip's grandfather, shown at the center of the picture. The names of the other men are perhaps lost to history: