When I first began assisting in the elementary classroom, I looked around for something that would truly remind of my youth. Yes….there were bulletin boards but I loved having the chance to sharpen my pencils with an automatic pencil sharpener with the old crank and sometimes smell the pencil shavings. Though there were times, the sharpeners would jam if the plastic enclosure collecting shavings became too full. I also remember metal clips on the top of many to manipulate while fitting the pencils.
Today, teachers now ask me to sharpen student pencils and I still have fun selecting an appropriate hole to fit the pencil, pushing in gently and listen to the electronic motor do its work. But the elementary students, when given the chance, really like to push it…if you know what I mean. And if it stops, they keep trying different holes. It has a powerful motor with the patented smart stop feature that shuts off the motor and illuminates a blue LED light when the pencil is finished sharpening. The sharpeners also contains an area enclosed where shavings are stored and when full, the sharpener will not work at all.
For most of its existence, the Automatic Pencil Sharpener Company was owned and operated by the Spengler-Loomis MFG Co. of Chicago according to Made in Chicago. , aka APSCO—a brand so prominent, it was like the No. 2 Pencil of pencil sharpeners. According to research, it briefly began in New York, but eventually was designed by a Chicago inventor,Essington N. Gilfillan in 1906.
In 1910, hundreds were designed at 31- 35th and Randolph Street and sent to offices as promotional strategy. What many liked is that there were no additional parts involved and in 1913 a plant was opened in Rockford. The state-of-the-art Rockford factory, completed in 1914 and located at 2415 Kishwaukee Street, covered 26,000 square feet, with 150 employees soon working to produce half a million pencil sharpeners per year. The building is still there but the company was sold several times in the 1950s, 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s. Finally, it could not compete with the electric sharpener. However, many of the older models such as the Chicago pencil sharpener would stop cutting if a point was produced. The crank could not be moved.
The Made-in-Chicago Museum, est. 2015, offers quite a collection of automatic pencil sharpeners as well as a great photos online. In Rogers Park, There are over 300 industrial antiques and vintage wares on display so far—all of them dating from 1900 to 1970, and all of them, of course, Made in Chicago.