John Lee Love was an African-American inventor best known for patenting a portable pencil sharpener known as the “Love Sharpener.” John Lee Love was a carpenter in Fall River, Massachusetts, who invented several devices. In 1895, Lee patented a lightweight plasterer’s hawk. In 1897, he patented a portable pencil sharpener known as the “Love Sharpener.” Lee died in a car and train collision in North Carolina on December 26, 1931.
Little is known about the life of John Lee Love, the inventor of the portable pencil sharpener. It is speculated that he was born sometime during the reconstruction period – between 1865-1877. Love later worked as a carpenter in the community of Fall River, Massachusetts. He applied for a patent for a portable pencil sharpener in 1897. His application specified that his invention was an “improved device” that could double as a paperweight or ornament. The design was simple, including a hand crank and a compartment to capture the pencil shavings. It was known colloquially as the “Love Sharpener.” The sharpener has been in continuous use since it was first produced.
While the pencil sharpener was Love’s most successful invention, it was not his first. In 1895, he created and patented an improved plasterer’s hawk, used by plasterers and masons. Love’s design featured a detachable handle and a foldable aluminum board, making it portable and lightweight. Love hired lawyers from New York and Boston firms to represent him while applying for both of his patents. Love died along with nine other passengers on December 26, 1931, when the car they were riding in collided with a train near Charlotte, North Carolina. Reports from the time indicate that he was not married.