Manual Tools For Thinkers

by | Sep 22, 2006

Kottke is pointing to a Legal Affairs article on yellow pads, objects many find useful even in a modern world dominated by screens and gadgets.

Once used only by law students and lawyers, the yellow legal pad is now employed to a degree unrivaled in stationery. “End career as a fighter,” President Richard Nixon wrote on a legal pad in August 1974. Five days later, on the top of another one, he scratched, “Resignation Speech.” Jeff Tweedy, front man for the rock band Wilco, writes his songs on a legal pad. Jim Harrison, the laureate of the untamed heart, wrote Legends of the Fall on legal pads; Elmore Leonard writes his crime novels on them.


In 1888, Thomas W. Holley, a 24-year-old paper mill worker in Holyoke, Mass. had an idea for how to use the paper scraps, known as sortings, discarded by mills. Sortings were anything trimmed away as scrap or considered of lesser quality than the writing paper eventually packaged and sold. Holley’s notion was to bind the scraps into pads that could be sold at a cut rate. Convinced he had a winning idea, he founded his own company–AMPAD–to collect the sortings from local mills (Holyoke was then the papermaking capital of the world) and began churning out bargain-price pads.

Philip Moustakis, a mid-level associate at the New York firm of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle, uses one legal pad per case, and prefers yellow over white pads and a faint, as opposed to a dark, rule. “The darker lines intrude upon my thinking–they’re yelling back at you,” he explained. “You want a more subtle line.”

The yellow-to-white sales ratio can be as high as 2 to 1. Some consumers feel white pads emit too much glare.