Photo from @micahfinds on Instagram
Writing is something that we do almost every day. However, we don’t often think of how our writing instruments came to be. There’s a great history that is behind the tools that we use on a daily basis. Whether you prefer fountain pens, ballpoint pens, or rollerball pens, here is a little history lesson on their amazing inventors:
The Fountain Pen
Identifying the first inventor of the fountain pen is a bit of a difficult task because of this writing instrument’s long history.
The fountain pen is much older than we realize. In fact, the very first account of a pen with an ink reservoir was recorded in 973, when the caliph Ma'ād al-Mu'izz of Maghreb in North Africa requested a pen that would keep his hands clean while using it. Instead of using standard quills and ink, his wish was granted with a pen that held ink inside.
The next iteration of a fountain pen that had written accounts was from 17th century German inventor Daniel Schwenter. He placed one quill inside another to form an ink reservoir which was sealed with a cork on one end and let ink flow through another end down to the pen’s nib.
However, it wasn’t until the 19th century that the modern fountain pen as we know it today would be developed. While Frederick Fölsch first filed a patent in England, much of the credit for the invention of fountain pens belongs to Romanian inventor Petrache Poenaru, who received a patent from the French government. He created a fountain pen with a barrel using a large swan quill in 1827. A few years later, John Jacob Parker patented the first self-filling fountain pen.
Patent after patent was created for a fountain pen that could be mass manufactured. However, these pens required three inventions to become popular: free-flowing ink, steel or iridium-tipped gold nibs, and hard rubber. It appeared in the 1850s thanks to inventors Duncan MacKinnon and Alonzo T. Cross, who created the stylographic pen, which used a wire tube for an ink valve. Pens during this time were filled using an eyedropper. By 1915, most pens were self-filling, using soft rubber sacs.
So if we are to ask who invented the fountain pen, the real answer is that there are many. However, the most well-known inventor would have to be none other than Petrache Poenaru. Thanks to him, today we have incredible writing tools like the ever-popular Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen or the more luxurious Pelikan M1000 Souverän fountain pen.
The Ballpoint Pen
The inventor of the ballpoint pen is much easier to identify — Hungarian-Argentinian inventor László Bíró is responsible for the everyday writing tool we have come to know. Sometimes, the ballpoint pen is even referred to as a Biro, named after its inventor!
However, the history of the ballpoint pen goes further back than when Bíró patented the first one in 1938, which he was developing for over a decade with his brother György. Back in 1888, an American lawyer and occasional inventor named John J. Loud received the first patent for a ballpoint pen. The invention started from his desire to use an ink pen that could write on rougher surfaces, such as leather and rougher papers. He decided to use a revolving steel ball held in place by a socket.
Many inventors tried to improve on Loud’s design, but the only successful ones that were able to take it into production were — you guessed it — Bíró in the 1930s! Similar to Loud, both László and György were frustrated with the limitations of the fountain pen. They invented a special ink made with paste rather than water, which ultimately made the ballpoint pen possible.
Bíró’s invention of the ballpoint pen eliminated the many drawbacks of the quill, ink bottles, and even fountain pens, such as:
- Long ink drying times
- Limited to paper writing surfaces
- Great skill required to write consistently
Thanks to László Bíró, writing has never been easier for us!
Rollerball pens have the same roots as their ballpoint cousin, so identifying the inventor is easy — thanks, Bíró!
The main difference between ballpoint and rollerball pens is the type of ink that is used. While the ink delivery system is the same, rollerball pens use liquid or gel inks that are runnier than the viscous and paste-like consistency of ballpoint pen ink. Since ballpoint pens use alcohol solvents to deliver the ink onto the paper, drying time is almost instant. Rollerball ink, like fountain pen ink, takes a while longer to dry since it is water-based. Some people consider good rollerballs like the ones from Parker to be a happy medium between a fountain pen and a ballpoint pen.
The Bottom Line
Some people prefer fountain pens, through and through. Most people strictly prefer ballpoint pens for convenience and ease. Whichever type of pen you choose, we have these inventors to thank for a much better writing experience!
Written by EndlessPens Blogger Ramona Kabigting