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Who Invented the Pen? A History of Fountain to Ballpoint Pens

Alyssa Mertes

Published: January 23rd, 2021

Take a look at the bottom of your bag, the cup on your desk, or the inside of your junk drawer. How many pens do you see? It's probably way more than you can count, and some may even be personalized with the name of a bank, dentist, or store you've visited.

Pens are thousands of years old and were used for the first time by our ancient ancestors in 3200 B.C. Hop in the time machine, and let's see how we went from reed styluses to the ballpoint pens we love writing with today!

Quote

Pens are very personal items. They become an extension of one's hand. You'll rarely regret paying too much for a pen you own, but you'll always regret having not bought a good pen when it was available.

George Fischler & Stuart Schneider, authors of Fountain Pens and Pencils: The Golden Age of Writing Instruments

Hour Glass

The History of Pens Timeline:

A wide variety of pens have been part of our everyday lives for years. This timeline shows the fascinating evolution, from wood sticks in the ancient world to pens that you can eat today!

  • 2500 B.C

    Ancient drawing Source: https://cosmosmagazine.com/

    The Egyptians must have been tired of carving into the tablets because they invented . The first writing ink was made from water, soot, vegetable extract, or boiled donkey skin.

  • 600 AD - 1990

    Feather Source: https://www.sutori.comm

    Quills became a popular way to write. The very first quills were used to write the Dead Sea Scrolls and works by Isidore of Seville, a Spanish scholar who is credited for inventing the period, comma, and colon punctuation marks.

  • 1827

    Petrache Poenaru Source: https://www.pinterest.com/

    A Romanian inventor named Petrache Poenaru invented the fountain pen. It was described as a "self-fueling endless portable quill with ink." The first fountain pen tended to clot and needed to be constantly refilled with an eyedropper.

  • 1830

    2 pens Source: https://www.lacouronneducomte.com

    Steel nibs were invented, which allowed for more precision and intricate flourishes in writing. Quills and fountain pens were able to be fitted with these high-end nibs, which created competition among pen manufacturers.

  • 1835

    6 pens Source: https://www.staedtler.com

    J.S. Staedtler started Staedtler in Nuremburg, Germany. His company is known for not only their stylish pens, but also their wooden pencils, art materials, and other stationery products.

  • 1846

    4 pens Source: https://goldspot.com/

    The A.T. Cross Company became the first American pen manufacturer, opening their factory in Providence, Rhode Island. Cross pens remain popular to this day and can be engraved as gifts for big events like promotions, work anniversaries, and graduations.

  • 1872

    Pen and cap Source: https://www.penworld.eu

    S.T. Dupont got into the pen game by opening a factory in Paris, France. At the time, there was a huge market for fountain pens, so S.T. Dupont stood out by offering intricate designs on the caps and barrels.

  • 1884

    Waterman ad Source: sutori.com

    Quills were becoming obsolete, making room for well-designed fountain pens. Lewis Waterman is credited with developing a rubber feed that regulated ink flow much more effectively than Poenaru's original version.

  • 1892

    Parker pen ad Source: cubicpromote.com

    The Parker Pen Company released their first pen, the Lucky Curve. These fancy pens had a feed that curved against the side of the barrel, preventing ink from blobbing onto the paper. Parker Pens are still popular to this day and can even be engraved with a name, monogram, or logo.

  • 1897

    Black pen Source: https://chatterleyluxuries.com

    The Conklin Pen Company introduced the Crescent Filler, which was a self-filling fountain pen that's valued at over $100 today. The design made it easier to fill the ink since it didn't require an eyedropper like other fountain pens.

  • 1906

    Pen in hand Source: https://millenarywatches.com

    Montblanc opened their doors in Germany. The brand offers luxury fountain pens that are sleek, engravable, and modern. Be ready to spend because Montblanc pens can be valued at over $9,000!

  • 1912

    Pens and caps Source: https://penhero.com

    William A. Sheaffer was a jeweler who wanted to capitalize on the growing fountain pen industry. He opened Sheaffer Pen in Fort Madison, Iowa, which offered pens that "filled instantly from any ink-well, with one touch of a finger."

  • 1918

    Red, blue and black pen Source: https://penstore.com/

    Pilot Pen started in Tokyo, Japan. They offer ballpoint pens and fountain pens in a variety of bright colors. Today, you can buy Pilot pens in 23 countries in 5 continents around the world.

  • 1924

    Blue pen Source: vacumania.com

    The W.A. Sheaffer Pen Company were the first to come out with plastic pens. By using plastic, the company could offer fountain pens in a variety of colors and with detailed engravings. Plastic is also way cheaper than metal.

  • 1929

    Gold pen Source:penhero.com

    Wahl-Eversharp's Personal Point gave customers a total of 14 pen nibs to choose from. Interchangeable nibs proved to be a huge success, and today many fountain pens still offer this variety.

  • 1931

    Pen taken apart Source: https://en.wikipedia.org

    László Bíró is often credited for inventing ballpoint pens. He unveiled the ballpoint at the Budapest International Fair, filed for a patent, and starting offering the pens to the general public in 1938. Gimbels department store was the first to sell the ballpoint pen in America.

  • 1935

    Fountain Pen Source: munsonpens.wordpress.com

    Fountain pens started getting decorated with cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse. Another popular edition of these pens featured Popeye in all his spinach-eating glory.

  • 1937

    Pepsi pen Source: munsonpens.wordpress.com

    Advertising pens became popular. A company's name and logo were printed on both fountain and ballpoint pens. Take for instance the Pepsi Cola pens featured here. The clip was shaped like a bottle, and the color scheme included the iconic red, white, and blue in Pepsi's logo.

  • 1940s

    Notebook and 2 pens Source: penporium.com

    Plastic was in heavy use after World War II. Manufacturers started using plastic to quickly make disposable ballpoint pens in bulk. The pens could then be sold for cheap, keeping up with the demand in offices and classrooms around the United States.

  • 1941

    blue and green pens Source: https://www.papermate.com/

    Paper Mate is a pen company started by Patrick J. Frawley. They're known for their colorful selection of ballpoint pens, which are often sold in packs for a very affordable price.

  • 1950s

    Black pen Source: https://parkerpens.net

    The Parker Pen Company unleashed the Hopalong Cassidy Pen, which became a crowd favorite. At the time, custom pens, lunch boxes, toys, and many other merch items were used to promote the most popular TV shows.

  • 1950

    Blue Pen Source: https://en.wikipedia.org

    The Bic Cristal made its debut. This is the best-selling pen in the world since it's cheap, long-lasting, and comes with a variety of ink colors. Bic pens are a must for back-to-school season.

  • 1960s - 1980s

    Superhero Pens Source: https://www.etsy.com

    With the use of plastic, pens could be molded into a variety of unique shapes. Early novelty pens from the 60s to the 80s came attached to lanyards or were included with comic books.

  • 1963

    OHTO Pen Source: https://www.ohto.jp/

    A Japanese manufacturer named OHTO invented the rollerball pen. These pens are just as comfortable to hold as ballpoint pens, but have thicker ink for writing. OHTO is still going strong to this day!

  • 1965

    Fisher Space Pen Source: youtube.com

    A new frontier of pens was explored with the Fisher Space Pen. This futuristic writer doesn't need gravity and works in outer space and underwater. It was even part of the first manned Apollo mission!

  • 1966

    5 Pens Source: amazon.com

    Uni-Ball pens became wildly successful in Japan and North America. These retractable pens have thick, water-based ink and a rollerball tip for more ease in writing. They're great for notetaking and come with many different ink colors.

  • 1982

    Zebra Pen Source: walmart.com

    Zebra Pen started in New York as a branch of Zebra Co., Ltd., a pen manufacturer in Japan. This company sells not only stylish pens, but also markers, highlighters, and mechanical pencils.

  • 1984

    Gel pens Source: https://www.thebalancesmb.com

    Gel pens came out for the first time in Japan. We've been using these colorful, water-based pens ever since for art projects and to doodle stars, hearts, and our crush's name on notebooks.

  • Late 2000s

    Person on computer

    Technology is allowing for even more innovation in pen design. Some stylus pens, for instance, are compatible with cell phones, tablets, digital notebooks, and certain laptops.

  • 2010s

    Lexmark pen

    Americans throw away an estimated 1.6 billion pens every year. Eco-friendly pens, which are often made from recycled paper or cardboard, are a great way to cut down on the waste. Plus, the pens can be recycled after the ink dries out.

  • 2018

     Montblanc Pen Source: forbes.com

    Collectors can still buy new, intricate fountain pens. Luxury brand Montblanc, for example, unleashed these fancy pens to commemorate John F. Kennedy's 101st birthday.

  • 2020

    Person and doctor

    Antibacterial pens became extremely popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. Next to hand sanitizer and face masks, these pens were a good way to cut down on the spread of germs.

  • 2021

    Scribit Source: fastcompany.com

    Pen design is changing all the time. Just look at the "Scribit" pen, sold by Carlo Ratti Associati. This compostable pen doesn't leak toxins into landfills when it's thrown away, and as a bonus, the ink is totally edible!

When Were Pens Invented?

Reed stylus https://www.pinterest.com

The history of pens can be traced back to ancient Egypt in 3200 B.C. The Egyptians didn't invent pens, but they did use a reed stylus to carve hieroglyphs into clay tablets. These tablets were then left in the sun to harden and were used to keep records of business transactions like traded crops and spices.

Reed stylus https://www.pinterest.com

The reed stylus paved the way for the future of pens. This tool made it possible to preserve stories, culture, and important moments in world history. It was the first time we were sharing our thoughts in the written form.

When Was Ink Invented?

Ancient egyption writing https://balkantradingcompany.com

The ancient Egyptians invented black ink in 2500 B.C. This was a mixture of pulverized ash, water, soot, vegetable extract, or boiled donkey skin. Musk oil was added to the mixture to help improve the odor. The ink was then used to print symbols on papyrus.

Ancient egyption writing https://balkantradingcompany.com

Egyptians weren't the only ones experimenting with ink. In India, they would dip sharp needles in a substance called "masi,"" which was ink made from tar and burnt bones. People in China, meanwhile, painted on silk or paper using ink made from graphite, water, and natural dyes.

Overall, ink changed the way we write. Pens would never have been as user-friendly if weren't for ink!

What is a Quill?

Feather and sky

A quill is a type of pen that was popular from the 6th century to the 19th century. It was made from swan, turkey, and goose feathers, which were plucked, dried, and placed into hot ashes or boiling water until they were soft. Ideally, the feather would be about 12 inches in length with the base removed of any excess filament left from the bird.

To write with a quill, you had to sharpen it with a knife and dip it in ink. Early quills usually only lasted for about a week before they had to be replaced. However, you could buy ready-made quills with different grades and prices by the 1830s. These were some of the first pens to be sold at market value and included steel nibs for precise writing.

Feather and sky

Many important publications were penned using a quill including religious texts like the Bible and Koran, and popular works by famous writers like William Shakespeare, John Milton, and Edgar Allen Poe. The Declaration of Independence was also signed by a quill in 1776.

Did you know?

Feathers from the bird's left wing are best for right-handed writers because they curve over the back of the hand and out of the sight line.

When Did Pens Replace Quills?

Writing in journal

Quills gave us our first dip into the pens we know and love today. However, there were a lot of downfalls to using these feathered writing instruments. For instance, smudges were fairly common, leading to a lot of frustration and ruined pieces of parchment!

The quill stopped being used in the 19th century. By that point, fountain pens were popular and more convenient since they didn't have to be dipped in ink.

Writing in journal

Who Invented the Fountain Pen?

Petrache Poenaru https://en.wikipedia.org/

The history of fountain pens goes back to Romania in 1827. Inventor Petrache Poenaru received a patent for what was called a "self-fueling endless portable quill with ink."

The original fountain pen created by Poenaru had a lot of flaws. For starters, there was no system for regulating ink flow so the pens would leak all over the paper. To make matters even worse, the ink made in the 19th century tended to clot before reaching the pen point.

Still, Poenaru was clearly on to something special. His fountain pen inspired many other pen manufacturers in countries around the world to start creating their own designs.

Petrache Poenaru https://en.wikipedia.org/

When Did Fountain Pens Become Popular?

Waterman pen factory https://www.dailykos.com

It wasn't until 1884 that the fountain pen became truly popular. This was thanks to Lewis Waterman, an insurance agent from New York. As the story goes, Waterman lent a customer a pen to sign a contract, the ink leaked all over the paper, and just like that he lost a big commission. Frustrated by the situated, Waterman took it into his own hands to change the fountain pen forever.

Waterman pen factory https://www.dailykos.com
parker pen factory https://rchs.us

The first Waterman pens were made with a rubber chamber and an ink feed with grooves that controlled the ink. By the 20th century, Waterman's design underwent even more changes, such as the addition of a replaceable ink cartridge. Advertising for these pens was primarily done in printed publications such as newspapers and National Geographic magazines. It wasn't long before other pen factories opened their doors including the Parker Pen Company in America and Montblanc in Germany.

Fountain pens were here to stay! They were a lot more practical than quills and could be made from materials like steel and titanium, which were in large supply after the Industrial Revolution. Not to mention, they looked elegant and made it easier to write lengthy works like novels, plays, and think pieces.

parker pen factory https://rchs.us
Quote

There's something special about a fountain pen. The way they put ink on paper, the visual appeal…they just have a beautiful feeling to them.

Paul Erano, author of Fountain Pens: Past and Present

László Bíró https://en.wikipedia.org

Who Invented the Ballpoint Pen?

Hungarian journalist László Bíró invented the ballpoint pen. He fled from the Nazis during World War II and eventually settled in Argentina where he obtained a patent in 1938.

The ballpoint pen was way different than the fountain pen, and to understand how, you need to be familiar with pen anatomy. Fountain pens had nibs, which were pointy tips that created precise lines. Bíró changed the tip to a small ball bearing. Some fountain pens had ink reservoirs that would get clogged. Bíró, on the other hand, filled his ballpoint pens with the same ink used in newspapers since it dried quickly, wouldn't get blocked in the ink reservoir, and didn't smudge on the paper.

László Bíró https://en.wikipedia.org

Overall, the ballpoint pen changed the way we write. Ballpoints could last for six months without needing to be refilled or replaced. Plus, they made writing way easier since they were more comfortable to hold than fountain pens.

Did you know?

You'll still hear ballpoint pens referred to as "Biros" in Britain and Australia!

Gimbel's factory https://www.nytimes.com

When Did Ballpoint Pens Become Popular?

Ballpoint pens became popular in America in October 1945. A traveler named Milton Reynolds brought them back from Argentina, and Gimbels department store in New York City showed interest in selling them.

A crowd of over 5,000 people waited outside of Gimbels to buy the "Reynolds Rocket" - a ballpoint pen that was first used by the U.S. Air Force. Gimbels sold a reported 10,000 pens per day at $12.50 each, which is about $150 today. After just 5 months, a total of 1.5 million Reynolds Rocket pens sold. Clearly, people couldn't get enough of ballpoint pens!

We've come a long way since those early days at Gimbels. Now you can buy ballpoint pens just about anywhere, and some are as cheap as under $1 each.

Gimbel's factory https://www.nytimes.com
Pan am pens https://www.worthpoint.com

When Did We Start Advertising on Pens?

Pan Am, the largest international air carrier in the 1950's to the 1960's, was one of the first companies to advertise on pens. They printed their name on both cheap pens and luxury fountain pens.

Today, companies of all sizes are advertising on custom pens. They keep them in a cup by their cash registers, or use them as freebies at promotional events like trade shows and fundraisers.

Here are some popular brands that are advertising with pens!

Pan am pens https://www.worthpoint.com

It's important to get your brand seen by as many people as possible. After all, people need to see your logo more than 5 times to connect it to your company. Custom pens are one of the most affordable marketing strategies out there!

woman smiling https://www.nytimes.com

What is the Future of Pens?

It may seem like pens no longer have a place in our hearts since we love our cell phones so much, but don't rule them out quite yet! Professionals, artists, college students, journalists, and many others need a good pen for their work.

You can also pick up smart pens like the Small Quill or Livescribe. These tech favorites come with fancy features like data storage, and plug into most computers, tablets, or phones with a standard USB cable.

woman smiling https://www.nytimes.com

The future of pens may seem up in the air, but handwriting still has a place in the digital world. It's worth picking up pens that feel good in your hand and make it easier for you to put words on paper.

Stats For Success

Stats 1 icon

Pens and other writing tools generate $20.2 billion a year worldwide.

Stats 2 icon

2 billion pens are made every single year.

Stats 3 icon

73% of people carry a pen with them at all times.

Stats 4 icon

56% of U.S. consumers own at least one branded pen.

The Bottom Line

Pen history is pretty insane. It involves donkeys, eyedroppers, long lines outside of department stores, and endless experimentation. Whether you write with a classic quill, a fancy fountain pen, a reliable ballpoint, or something a bit more unusual like a pickle-shaped pen, you have endless options to choose from!

Quality Logo Products are experts on all things printed and promotional. Let our team of awesome, incredibly good looking, and fun promo nerds help you select awesome promotional swag today!

4 random promtional products 4 random promotional products tablet
Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa Mertes

Alyssa is the Lead Copywriter at Quality Logo Products. As a promo expert, she's uncovered the world's first custom tote bag, interviewed the guy behind rock band ACDC's logo, and had a piece published by the Advertising Specialty Institute, a leader in the promotional products industry.

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