Today at The Pencil Factory at 47-61 Greenpoint Avenue, you can get an amazing haircut, or see an exciting new art exhibit, or even stop by our very own Greenpointers office, but between 1924 and 1956, that building lived up to its name and turned out pencils for the Eberhard Faber Pencil Company, one of the largest pencil manufacturers in the world. Faber had additional factories located in Germany, Canada, and Argentina, but Brooklyn was the heart of the enterprise. In fact, the Greenpoint Avenue plant was “one of Brooklyn’s most important factories, employing hundreds of workers, many of which were women.” Ace local historian Geoff Cobb included the Pencil Factory in his history of Greenpoint in 25 buildings, and 10 years ago this month, the City of New York recognized the importance of The Pencil Factory’s industrial and architectural history, and landmarked the building, establishing The Eberhard Faber Pencil Company Historic District. The district includes properties on Greenpoint Avenue, West and Kent Streets which were all originally part of the Pencil Factory complex.
The Eberhard Faber Pencil Company was a pencil industry Game Changer! The ingenuity of its products foreshadowed the creativity of businesses working out of the building today. For example, according to the site’s Historic District Designation Report, “Faber was responsible for many breakthroughs in the production of pencils and related items, including having been the first pencil manufacturer maker to merchandise pencils with color tips (known as Mongol pencils, they became the world’s most popular color pencil), the first to apply polishes in bright colors to the wood encasements, and the first to offer color pencils in sets.” That’s right. No Faber, no color pencils. We stand on the shoulders of giants, people!
Eberhard Faber was selling pencils and stationary in Lower Manhattan as early as 1850. In 1861, he earned a trademark for producing lead pencils, and opened the first pencil factory in the United States at the foot of 42nd Street, on the East River, in Manhattan. After a fire in 1872, Faber relocated to Greenpoint, where his business flourished, and his factory complex grew, in the ensuing decades. The oldest buildings in the Pencil Factory Historic District, where Faber first set up shop in Brooklyn, are at 100-106 West Street, and date to around 1860. The Pencil Factory on Greenpoint Avenue, opened in 1924, was actually the last of the buildings in the complex.
The Historic District Designation Report notes that the buildings, particularly the Greenpoint Avenue Factory, are architecturally notable and distinctive because they were built “in an era in which a factory often served as an advertisement for its firm; companies typically produced bird’s-eye renderings of their industrial complexes that appeared in their catalogs, in business directories, in advertisements, and on company letterhead. Generally, these depicted the factory as a hub of activity with smoke pouring from its chimneys, the home of a successful business that, by implication, made a desirable and dependable product.” Those giant pencils on the Greenpoint Avenue Factory are a great advertisement, don’t you think?