The History of the Pen

A pen is a tool used for expressing and materializing thought. In this sense, it could be considered as the most powerful tool ever created. Let’s take a look at its often overlooked history.

The history of the pen is vast, its origins dating back to writing with a stylus, bird feather and brush, around -4000 BC.

antic clay text

Civilizations began to write by engraving on stones and tablets of clay and wood before the later use of parchments (papyrus) and paper.

Styluses and other engraving tools were replaced by bird feathers as soon as the first papyrus and paper came into being.

Even in the 19th century, the constraints linked to the use of the pen and the inkwell made writing very slow and tedious :

  • Autonomy issues (regularly having to dip the nib in the inkwell)
  • Durability issues (feather cutting, regular changes needed)
  • Transport issues (transport of fragile material needing large cases)
pen and the inkwell
pen and the inkwell

We then saw the first attempts to improve writing tools:

  • Material changes: replacing the tip of the feather with a horn or tortoiseshell tip
  • Addition of a reservoir in order to incorporate the ink.

The main difficulty encountered when adding the reservoir was the ink flow, which was the subject of numerous failures and misfortunes.

Mr. Petrache Poenaru
Mr. Petrache Poenaru

It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century when Petrache Poenaru filed a patent for improvement that the fountain pen took off.

Mr. Biro
Mr. Biro

The appearance of the ballpoint pen was in 1865, yet it was not until 1938 that we saw the emergence of the ballpoint pen as we know it today. ​​Journalist José Ladislav Biro came upwith the idea of combining the fountain pen with the principle of rapid drying used in newspaper printing and replacing the nib with a ball.

Mr. Bich
Mr. Bich

It was in 1945 that Biro sold his patent to the French Marcel Bich, who improved the ballpoint pen to allow for easier writing. It was then decided that the ballpoint pen would be produced in large quantities in order to reduce production costs and make the product accessible to everyone. It is now so accessible that it has sold more than 100 billion copies worldwide today.