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TWA Hotel guestrooms feature Musgrave pencils.
TWA Hotel Musgrave Pencils

The Write Stuff

Looking sharp! American-made pencils by Musgrave grace the TWA Hotel guestrooms.

Travelers at the TWA Hotel can leave their mark in style. All 512 guestrooms feature premium scribblers made by Musgrave Pencil Company, one of the country’s last family-owned pencil manufacturers.

 TWA Hotel Musgrave Pencils
Start scribbling! Guests can doodle at will with Musgrave's sharp-looking pencils.

The search for the perfect writing instrument pointed MCR/MORSE Development — the nation’s sixth-largest hotel owner-operator — to Shelbyville, Tennessee (known as the Pencil City!) where Musgrave has operated since 1916. The factory produced 150,000 cylindrical graphite beauties for the hotel. Sharp observers will notice the red erasers — a nod to TWA’s signature shade!

 TWA Hotel Musgrave Pencils
Musgrave has operated in Shelbyville, Tennessee since 1916; photo courtesy of Musgrave.

The TWA Hotel team visited Musgrave in Tennessee to watch the hotel’s pencils take shape. “Anytime someone comes to the factory, I’m tickled,” says Musgrave Chairman Henry Hulan. “It’s great when people take time to talk with us about different styles of pencils. That’s what we’re here for and that’s what we love to do.”

 TWA Hotel Musgrave Pencils
Musgrave's Chairman, Henry Hulan, is the grandson of the company's founder; photo courtesy of Musgrave.

That type of care and attention goes back to Hulan’s grandfather, the company’s founder, James Raford Musgrave. Known as Colonel Musgrave, he launched the business in 1916, selling Tennessee red cedar slats to pencil companies in Great Britain and Germany. By the 1950s and early 1960s, the company no longer sold the slats abroad and had shifted the business entirely to manufacturing.

 TWA Hotel Musgrave Pencils
At Musgrave, wooden slats are clamped and dried overnight before being cut into pencils; photo courtesy of Musgrave.

One order that came off the factory line? Ultra-thin, 3 ½ inch red pencils that were paired with subscription cards in issues of Look, a popular weekly — which means it’s likely that when Eero Saarinen’s landmark TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport was completed in 1962, travelers were coming through with Musgrave pencils!

 TWA Hotel Musgrave Pencils
Musgrave has employed thousands of Shelbyville residents over the years; photo courtesy of Musgrave.

Transforming a piece of wood into a finished writing implement can take up to seven days. To start, a machine cuts grooves into a 7 ½” x 3 ½” slat of cedar or basswood — the grooves are half the depth of the graphite core. The empty spaces are filled with glue, followed by graphite. The piece is topped with a second grooved slat, then they’re sandwiched together with clamps. “A lot of people don’t realize that a pencil is two pieces of wood,” says Hulan.

 TWA Hotel Musgrave Pencils

After the block dries overnight, it’s sent through a shaping machine and cut into nine pencils of a desired length and shape — such as cylindrical, hexagonal or flat. Next step: paint. The TWA Hotel’s red pencils took several coatings of pigment. After a logo is applied, it’s on to the tipping machine, which adds and crimps the metal ferrule (the piece that holds the eraser) followed by the eraser itself.

 TWA Hotel Musgrave Pencils

Throughout the process, the pencils are hand-inspected several times. At the end of each day, leftover sawdust is sent to local horse farms for stall bedding. Over the last century, Musgrave has employed thousands of Shelbyville residents and is thrilled that TWA Hotel guests get to experience their handiwork. Says Hulan: “It’s really meaningful that a big company would choose a family-run factory.”

The pencil process! The TWA Hotel's pencils take shape.
TWA Hotel Musgrave Pencils

By the Numbers

14
Length in inches of one of the longest pencils Musgrave has made (eraser included)
53
Number of years Henry Hulan has worked at Musgrave, his grandfather's company
335
Estimated feet that a pencil travels over the course of production
930
Miles between Shelbyville and NYC
93,750
Length in feet of all the TWA Hotel’s pencils if lined up end-to-end
175,000
Square footage of Musgrave’s factory
30 Billion
Estimated number of pencils Musgrave has made over the last 100 years

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