Who Invented the Pen?


The ability to write is one of those things that men believe sets them apart from animals. It is also one of the oldest. Archeologists have found cave drawings from the time of primitive humans. These were made with sharpened rocks, the first writing instruments.

Early Writing

Early Pens

The Greeks invented the first writing instrument that resembled a pen. It was a sharp-pointed object called a stylus made of either bone or metal. They would use it to make marks on a wax-covered writing tablets. Since wax is vulnerable to scratches, they designed the tablets to fold in the middle to preserve the writing. So they looked like the earliest notebooks and journals too.

In Rome, they used bamboo sticks for writing pens. They would fill it from one end with ink and the other end was sharpened for writing.

The Chinese invented “india ink.” It was first used to paint hieroglyphs on stone. India ink was made from oil, soot and animal substances. Other peoples were making their own writing inks from various plants and minerals too. At the same time people were learning to make writing paper. While the Chinese used wood fiber, the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used parchment and papyrus.

In 700 AD, the well-known quill pen came into use. It was made from the feathers of live birds, usually goose or (more expensive) swan. The quill pen was hard to make and had to be replaced each week.

The Modern Pen

In 1884, a thousand years after the advent of the quill pen, Lewis Waterman invented the first modern fountain pen. Waterman was an insurance broker in New York. One of his clients was about to sign on to a lucrative contract when the pen Waterman gave him leaked onto the paper. Waterman rushed to get a replacement but the client had signed with another broker in his absence. The embarrassed broker decided to invent a fountain pen that would never leak again. He came up with the capillary that regulates ink flow.

The Ballpoint Pen

American John Loud first patented the ball point design for designing leather. However he did not use it to make pens. A journalist from Hungary named Laszlo Biro was the first to commercially publish the ball pen in 1938. Working everyday with newspapers, he noticed that the ink used for printing them dried fast. So he decided to try using that for pens. But the ink wouldn’t come out of the fountain pens in use back then. So Biro placed a tiny ball at the top. As he stroked paper with the ball pen, the ball would roll and the ink would spread out. Biro renewed his patent in 1943, but sold the rights to the British government for use in World War II. Biro did not patent his design in the United States, and since then many ballpoint pen inventions were developed. But they are all based on the same principle he and Loud discovered.

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