ELVIS PRESLEY MUSEUM

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History of the Fountain Pen

 
Lewis Waterman patented the first practical fountain pen in 1884. Writing instruments designed to carry their own supply of ink had existed in principle for over one hundred years before Waterman's patent. For example, the oldest known fountain pen that has survived today was designed by a Frenchmen named M. Bion and dated 1702. Peregrin Williamson, a Baltimore shoemaker, received the first American patent for a pen in 1809. John Scheffer received a British patent in 1819 for his half quill, half metal pen that he attempted to mass manufacture. John Jacob Parker patented the first self-filling fountain pen in 1831.  However, early fountain pen models were plagued by ink spills and other failures that left them impractical and hard to sell.

The fountain pen's design came after a thousand years of using quill-pens. Early inventors observed the apparent natural ink reserve found in the hollow channel of a bird's feather and tried to produce a similar effect, with a man-made pen that would hold more ink and not require constant dipping into the ink well. However, a feather is not a pen, only a natural object modified to suit man's needs. Filling a long thin reservoir made of hard rubber with ink and sticking a metal 'nib' at the bottom was not enough to produce a smooth writing instrument. Lewis Waterman, an insurance salesman, was inspired to improve the early fountain pen designs after destroying a valuable sales contract with leaky-pen ink. Lewis Waterman's idea was to add an air hole in the nib and three grooves inside the feed mechanism.

A mechanism is composed of three main parts. The nib, which has the contact with the paper. The feed or black part under the nib controls the ink flow from the reservoir to the nib. The round barrel that holds the nib and feed on the writing end protects the ink reservoir internally (this is the part that you grip while writing).

All pens contain an internal reservoir for ink. The different ways that reservoirs filled proved to be one of the most competitive areas in the pen industry. The earliest 19th century pens used an eyedropper; by 1915, most pens had switched to having a self-filling soft and flexible rubber sac as an ink reservoir. To refill these pens, the reservoirs were squeezed flat by an internal plate, then the pen's nib was inserted into a bottle of ink and the pressure on the internal plate was released so that the ink sac would fill up drawing in a fresh supply of ink.

Several different patents issued for the self-filling fountain pen design:

  • The Button Filler: Patented in 1905 and first offered by the Parker Pen Co. in 1913 as an alternative to the eyedropper method. An external button connected to the internal pressure plate that flattened the ink sac when pressed.
  • Lever Filler: Walter Sheaffer patented the lever filler in 1908. The W.A. Sheaffer Pen Company of Fort Madison, Iowa introduced it in 1912. An external lever depressed the flexible ink sac. The lever fitted flush with the barrel of the pen when it was not in use. The lever filler became the winning design for the next forty years, the button filler coming in second.
  • Click Filler: First called the crescent filler, Roy Conklin of Toledo commercially produced the first one. A later design by Parker Pen Co. used the name click filler. When two protruding tabs on the outside of the pen pressed, the ink sac deflated. The tabs would make a clicking sound when the sac was full.
  • Matchstick Filler: Introduced around 1910 by the Weidlich Company. A small rod mounted on the pen or a common matchstick depressed the internal pressure plate through a hole in the side of the barrel.
  • Coin Filler: Developed by Lewis Waterman in an attempt to compete with the winning lever filler patent belonging to Sheaffer. A slot in the barrel of the pen enabled a coin to deflate the internal pressure plate, a similar idea to the matchstick filler.
There are nine standard nib-sizes, with three different nib-tip cuts: straight, oblique and italic. The early inks caused steel nibs to quickly corrode and gold nibs held up to the corrosion. Iridium used on the very tip of the nib replaced gold because gold was too soft. Most owners had their initials engraved on the clip. It took about four months to break in a new writing instrument since the nib was designed to flex as pressure was put on it (allowing the writer to vary the width of the writing lines) each nib wore down accommodating to each owner's own writing style. People did not tend to loan their fountain pens to anyone for that reason.

The ink cartridge introduced around 1950 was a disposable, pre-filled plastic or glass cartridges designed for clean and easy insertion. They were an immediate success. The introduction of the ballpoints, however, overshadowed the invention of the cartridge and dried up business for the fountain pen industry. Fountain pens sell today as a classic writing instrument and the original pens have become very hot collectibles.

History of the Ballpoint Pen

 
"No man was more foolish when he had not a pen in his hand, or more wise when he had" - Samuel Johnson.

A Hungarian journalist named Laszlo Biro invented the first ballpoint pen in 1938. Biro had noticed that the type of ink used in newspaper printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge-free. He decided to create a pen using the same type of ink. The thicker ink would not flow from a regular pen nib and Biro had to devise a new type of point. He did so by fitting his pen with a tiny ball bearing in its tip. As the pen moved along the paper, the ball rotated picking up ink from the ink cartridge and leaving it on the paper. This principle of the ballpoint pen actually dates back to an 1888 patent owned by John J. Loud for a product to mark leather. However, this patent was commercially unexploited. Laszlo Biro first patented his pen in 1938, and applied for a fresh patent in Argentina on June 10, 1943. (Laszlo Biro and his brother Georg Biro emigrated to Argentina in 1940.) The British Government bought the licensing rights to this patent for the war effort. The British Royal Air Force needed a new type of pen, one that would not leak at higher altitudes in fighter planes as the fountain pen did. Their successful performance for the Air Force brought the Biro pens into the limelight. Laszlo Biro had neglected to get a U.S. patent for his pen and so even with the ending of World War II, another battle was just beginning..

Historical Outline - The Battle of Ballpoint Pens

The first pen-writing instrument was the quill pen dipped into dark paint. There became a need to lengthen the time between dips, eliminate splatter, eliminate smearing and improve pen handling.

  • Early 1800s: The first designs for pens that could hold their own ink patented.
  • 1884: L.E. Waterman, a New York City insurance salesman, designed the first workable fountain pen, the fountain pen becomes the predominant writing instrument for the next sixty years. Four fountain pen manufactures dominate the market: Parker, Sheaffer, Waterman and Wahl-Eversharp.
  • 1938: Invention of a ballpoint pen by two Hungarian inventors, Laszlo Biro and George Biro. The brothers both worked on the pen and applied for patents in 1938 and 1940. The new-formed Eterpen Company in Argentina commercialized the Biro pen. The press hailed the success of this writing tool because it could write for a year without refilling.
  • May 1945: Eversharp Co. teams up with Eberhard-Faber to acquire the exclusive rights to Biro Pens of Argentina. The pen re-branded the “Eversharp CA” which stood for Capillary Action. Released to the press months in advance of public sales.
  • June, 1945: Less than a month after Eversharp/Eberhard close the deal with Eterpen, Chicago businessman, Milton Reynolds visits Buenos Aires. While in a store, he sees the Biro pen and recognizes the pen’s sales potential. He buys a few pens as samples. Reynolds returns to America and starts the Reynolds International Pen Company, ignoring Eversharp’s patent rights.
  • October 29, 1945: Reynolds copies the product in four months and sells his product Reynold's Rocket at Gimbel’s department store in New York City. Reynolds’ imitation beats Eversharp to market. Reynolds’ pen is immediately successful: Priced at $12.50, $100,000 worth sold the first day on the market.
  • December, 1945: Britain was not far behind with the first ballpoint pens available to the public sold at Christmas by the Miles-Martin Pen Company.
The Ballpoint Pen Becomes a Fad

Ballpoint pens guaranteed to write for two years without refilling, claimed to be smear proof. Reynolds advertised it as the pen "to write under water." Eversharp sued Reynolds for copying the design it had acquired legally. The previous 1888 patent by John Loud would have invalidated everyone's claims. However, no one knew that at the time. Sales skyrocketed for both competitors. Nevertheless, the Reynolds’ pen leaked, skipped and often failed to write. Eversharp’s pen did not live up to its own advertisements. A very high volume of pen returns occurred for both Eversharp and Reynolds. The ballpoint pen fad ended - due to consumer unhappiness.

  • 1948: Frequent price wars, poor quality products, and heavy advertising costs hurt each side. Sales did a nosedive. The original asking price of $12.50 dropped to less than 50 cents per pen.
  • 1950: The French Baron called Bich, drops the h and starts BIC and starts selling pens.
  • 1951: The ballpoint pen dies a consumer death. Fountain pens are number one again. Reynolds folds.
  • January, 1954: Parker Pens introduces its first ballpoint pen, the Jotter. The Jotter wrote five times longer than the Eversharp or Reynolds pens. It had a variety of point sizes, a rotating cartridge and large-capacity ink refills. Best of all, it worked. Parker sold 3.5 million Jotters @ $2.95 to $8.75 in less then one year.
The Ballpoint Pen Battle is Won
  • 1957: Parker introduces the tungsten carbide textured ball bearing in their ballpoint pens. Eversharp was in deep financial trouble and  tried to switch back to selling fountain pens. Eversharp sold its pen division to Parker Pens and Eversharp's assets finally liquidated in the 1960’s.
  • Late 1950's: BIC ® held 70 percent of European market.
  • 1958: BIC buys 60 percent of the New York based Waterman Pens.
  • 1960: BIC owns 100 percent of Waterman Pens. BIC sells ballpoint pens in U.S. for 29 - 69 cents.
The Ballpoint Pen War is Won

History of the Felt Tip Pen

 

In the 1960's the felt-tip pen was invented by Yukio Horie of the Tokyo Stationery Company, Japan. Papermate's Flair was among the first felt-tip pens and coloured felt-tip pens to hit the U.S. market in the 1960's, and it has been the leader ever since.