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 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.
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.
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.