The history of the pen

The history of the pen

The humble pen has played an important role in human history. Primitive writing tools were used to scribble hunting scenes onto cave walls, before reed and papyrus facilitated the passing of knowledge, language, laws and customs down through the ages As society has developed, as has our favoured writing tool. Even in today’s digital world, the pen still has a firm fixture in our daily lives.

From feathered quills to the classic ballpoint, we chart the history of the pen through the ages.

The Quill Pen

The history of the pen as a writing instrument has been linked back to periods of prehistory. Primitive implements used by early man gave way to reeds and bamboo in the ancient civilisations of Egypt and China. One of the first major developments in the history of the pen came with the usage of the feather quill. Use of the quill pen stretches back as far as 600 A.D., and the tool still saw regular use up until the 19th century.

An ideal quill pen was made from the outer wing feathers of a goose or swan, taken from the left wing of a live bird. The quill pen has a celebrated role in history and was used to write famous documents, from the Magna Carter to the American Constitution.

Steel-Point Pen

In the 1820s, steel-point pens came into popular use, with John Mitchell of Birmingham being credited as the first person to mass produce them. Birmingham went on to be the centre of steel-point pen production. While these pens still needed to be dipped in ink, they were machine made and lasted longer than their predecessor, the quill pen. As literacy rates began to rise around the world so too did the popularity and everyday usage of the pen. Combined with cheap industrial production, the pen began to see common usage in the daily life of the mass populace.

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The Fountain Pen

The fountain pen arrived in the early 19th century. Often credited to Lewis E Waterman, the first patents for the fountain pen were actually filed by the inventor Petrache Poenaru. Waterman is responsible for the development of the traditional three-fissure system still used in fountain pens today though, a design that combatted initial problems with leakage. The Waterman Pen Company is still running today.

The ballpoint pen

A major milestone in the history of the pen was the creation of the ballpoint pen, which marked a dramatic change in the way we write today. The ballpoint pen was first patented by the American John H Loud in 1888. However, it was newspaper editor László Bíró in the 1930s who invented the ballpoint pen we use today. Along with using a ball bearing, the key to Bíró’s success was the quick drying ink that he and his brother created that marked a key difference to the fountain pen. It went on to be the favoured pen of Second World War pilots as the pen worked well at high altitudes. Ballpoint pens are now used universally around the world, helped along with the invention of the affordable BIC Crystal in 1950.

The pen has undergone many changes and developments over the course of its illustrious history. From ballpoint pens to fountain pens, you can find a range of options and offers on the Staples website.