History of the Pen

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Educational level: this is a secondary education resource.

In the beginning, with the lack of appropriate technology, pens were probably just an idea that were employed on simple items (rocks, sticks, mud, etc.). Cave paintings, discovered recently, were paintings in caves (hence the name). Even though they seem simple to the average person, the sight of cave paintings is ground-breaking. How so? Cave paintings are proof of the intelligence of cavemen, who put in the effort to create colorful and illustrative paintings on the walls of caves - using the very limited resources that they had.

Cave paintings

Pens finally took on an actual shape in 3000 BC with the ancient Egyptians. They used a special type of rush ("grass-like plants") that was growing on the coastline. This special type of rush is known to us as Juncus maritimus, or sea rushes. These plants were used to develop writing on papyrus scrolls and create thin reed pens. These sea rushes were extensively used by scribes (people who write out documents), as they used reed pens to write their books.

In 1300 B.C., the Romans developed a metal stylus (which was mainly used for writing on wax tables). The metal stylus was thoroughly defined as, “an iron instrument" (Ov. Met. IX.521; Martial, XIV.21), resembling a pencil in size and shape, used for writing upon waxed tablets (Plaut. Bacch. IV.4.63; Plin. H.N. XXXIV.14). At one end it was sharpened to a point for scratching the characters upon the wax (Quintil. i.1 §27), while the other end being flat and circular served to render the surface of the tablets smooth again, and so to obliterate what had been written. Thus, vertere stilum means to erase, and hence to correct, as in the well-known precept saepe stilum vertas (Hor. Sat. 1.10.72; Cic. Verr. II.41)”. Around the same time, Asian scribes were using bronze stylus. Few years later, the Egyptians employed thick Calamus/Bamboo reeds. The Chinese made their own innovations by implementing brushes into pens made from camel or rat hair. The reed pen survived until papyrus was replaced by animal skin. When the reed pen died out, the quill pen was invented around the 6th century in Seville, Spain. The high-quality quill pens were made from swan feathers while the average-quality quill pens were made from goose feathers. The quill pen was phenomenal in that it not only was the first major advancement of the pen (and widely use internationally), but it led to even more innovations.

A quill pen

The quill pen was replaced by the metal nibs by the 19th century. Throughout the early 19th century, the usage of the quill pen faded and the quality of metal nibs increased. Ballpoint pens also made their mark in the late 19th century, but their patents were not exploited commercially. Ballpoint pens made their public appearance in the 1940s by Josef and Georg Biro, two Germans who fled Nazi Germany to Argentina. The Biro brothers filed a new patent in 1943 and was was accepted and sold in Argentina as "Birome". After WWII, many companies wanted to commercial their own ballpoint pen. This was attempted in the 1940s, when the Eberhard Faber pencil factory collaborated with Eversharp Co. to license the rights for pens from Birome in order to conduct sales in the US. Much to their dismay, American entrepreneur Milton Reynolds introduced ballpoint pen to the US before their request. Reynolds took a business trip to Argentina and brought back a couple of Birome ballpoint pens. From the pens he took, he created the Reynolds International Pen Company. After altering the Birome pens, he got an American patent to sell them. Reynolds Rocket became the first commercially successful ballpoint pen. He sold thousands a pens a week ($12 dollars for each pen). Even though Reynolds and Eversharp were successful for quite some time, both of them did not meet up to the American public's expectations. By the 1950s, both of them went into bankruptcy.

Among the emerging ballpoint pen companies in the 1950s, the Paper Mate pens bought rights to distribute ballpoint pens in Canada. Soon, they got themselves into some trouble with their pens (ink issues), so they created new ink formulas and publicized their pens as "banker-approved". The company continued to sell ball point pens with mild success and continues to sell to this day. Meanwhile, an American based company, Parker Pens, released their first ballpoint pen, named "The Jotter". The Jotter, according to Parker Pens, had "additional features" and "technological advances" to it. The company's creative advertising resulted in the selling of several millions "The Jotter" pens ($3 - $9 each) in less than a year. Another manufacturer, named Micheal Bich, emerged from the depths of marketing with "Bic pens" in 1953. He introduced new ballpoint pens to the American marketplace in the 1950s. With the cheerful slogan of "Writes The First Time, Every Time!", he was successful in selling his Bic pens in the 1960s. The 1940s-1960s was a highly competitive time for pen manufacturers. In 1962, “marker pens” were created by Japanese inventor Yukio Horie of the Tokyo Stationery Company (now known as Pentel). Marker pens, along with highlighters, have recently exploded in popularity.

Closeup of a rollerball pen

In 1963, rollerball pens were introduced to the public by the Japanese company, Ohto. In the 1970s, rollerball pens became popular. Rollerball pens consisted of an employed mobile ball with liquid ink, which creating smooth lines. Subsequent developments on the rollerball pens in the following decades made them easier to use. In the 1990s, pens with a rubber covering were being made. These types of pens provided an easier grip for writers.

Although computers and phones have been the most popular ways of writing, the pen remains to be a historical and useful item. Pens, such as Bic pens and ballpoint pens, are still used in our every-day lives around the world.


  • Wikipedia contributors. "Ballpoint pen." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 Mar. 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
  • Wikipedia contributors. "Paper Mate." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 15 Mar. 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
  • Wikipedia contributors. "Quill." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 Feb. 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
  • "HISTORY OF WRITING IMPLEMENTS - over 6000 Years." HISTORY OF WRITING IMPLEMENTS - over 6000 Years. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
  • "Ballpoint Pen History – Who Invented Ballpoint Pen?" History of Ballpoint Pens – Who Invented Ballpoint Pen? N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

See also

  Search for Pen on Wikipedia.
  Search Wikiquote for quotations related to: Pen