Who Invented the First Pen?

The Real History of the Pen

The Pen: Who Invented it and When?

The Quill:

Feather Quill PenMost everyone on the planet knows what the pen is but how many people know its real history?

Some may argue that a quill is not actually a pen. But the Old French word ” pene ” which comes from the Latin word “penna” actually means quill feather. So the feather is technically the first pen.

Before the “pen” the more popular writing instruments were sharpened reed sticks. This worked well with the papyrus sheets which were made from the stem of the rough bark of the plant.

Because of its durability, parchment replaced papyrus. Unlike papyrus, parchment could withstand moist climates. A noted feature of the parchment was its soft consistency.

This made it possible to use fine quills for writing. These writing quills were made from bird feathers. Because the quills were narrow, the letters could be smaller.

The Dip Pen:

What is a dip pen? To start with, it simply consists of a metal nib with a simple straw tube inside of a handle. Dip pens don’t have an internal container like fountain pens, so they are used by dipping in a bottle or bowl of ink, hence the name.

Dip pens replaced quills and reeds for writing in the 19th century. They have advantages over fountain pens; they can be used with India, Acrylic ink, and the ancient original Iron Gall ink. Those inks are destructive to fountain pens.

There are a wide variety of exchangeable nibs for them, different types of lines can be drawn and they are often finer than a fountain pen. The price tag is also far less than a fountain pen.

You would not use fountain pen ink for a dip pen because they can be of a different consistency. After each use, they must be cleaned regularly, with a sponge, cloth or paper towel as soon as possible. When you write with them, the correct manner to have the nib curved inwards toward your writing hand.

The earliest known dipping pen was found in Roman Britain (43 to 410 C.E) In the early modern period, these were known as “steel pens”, these were known since at least the 18th century and started being mass produced in 1822. The quill pen was the most common form of writing instrument prior to that time. The modest pricing and the mass production of the Industrial Age fostered the growth of education and literacy for people who could now afford to write.


The Ballpoint Pen:

The Ballpoint pen was patented originally by John Jacob Loud, An American inventor in 1888. He attempted to make a pen that could write on rough surfaces, which fountain pens could not do.

The prototype had a small rotating steel ball held in place by a socket. Although it could write well on things like leather and wood, it was too rough for a sheet of paper. It ended up not being marketable to the public. The first attempts failed often because of the ink, it was a different type similar to fountain and dip pens and would dry prematurely and clog the tube. Another problem was that the ballpoint itself was too large for the pen so the ink would not draw.

Laszlo Biro, a Hungarian newspaper editor, was frustrated by the amount of time it took to maintain a fountain pen. He noticed the ink used in newspapers dried quickly, with no smudges. This ink is generally made with oil, refined soybean oil mixed with resin and wax to be exact.

Working with his brother, he designed a rollerball system that rotated picking up the thick ink and placing it on the page. This had to be done because the thick ink would not flow from a typical fountain pen nib. Biro filed a British patent in 1938. The pen was popular in the Royal Air Force in WW2 because it would not leak at high altitudes like fountain pens.

After the war, an American entrepreneur, Milton Reynolds, came across the pens designed by Biro. He brought them back to the U.S as samples and made alterations enough to patent his own pen, the first commercially successful Ballpoint pen; the “Reynolds Rocket”. Following these came the ubiquitous “BIC” and “Papermate” pens.

The simple, inexpensive Bic Cristal is the most popular pen in the world, selling over 100 billion pens. It is transparent with a hole in the cap for child safety to prevent choking. Its hexagon shape is like a pencil and gives a good grip.



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