When Was The Fountain Pen Invented? A History Of Pens

When you’re getting into fountain pens, you’ll notice how easy it can draw you into its world. Pretty soon you’ll be trying to get every inch of information you can get about it. You’ll want to find out how it works, how to maintain it, and you’ll even want to know more about its history. Luckily, I’ve got you covered because I went around collecting all the important points in time you need to know about.

When Was The Fountain Pen Invented? The fountain pen was first patented by the Romanian inventor Petrache Poenaru on May 25, 1987, for inventing a pen with a barrel made from a large swan quill. There were also other records of pens prior to the fountain pen which had similar mechanics and was ultimately utilized by Poenaru.

I often like to say that there are many sources when it comes to fountain pen knowledge. These come from the numerous fountain pen communities around the internet, youtube, and fountain pen experts. You’d be delighted to know that while the fountain pen was first patented by Poenaru, there have similarly been many others that have contributed to the actual invention and made it possible. Some even say that Da Vinci invented one himself.

I guess it’s really just the nature of fountain pens to be shared in a community.

In this article, we’ll explore more of how the fountain pen came to be, the contributions key figures have made, icons who helped make it what it is today, and the evolution of the pen in general.

I don’t want to inundate you with the dates, instead, I want to summarize the most important moments in an easy to understand the article. So don’t think of it as a textbook you would in school, but a story of how the fountain pen came to be.

The Development Of The Fountain Pen

There are many accounts of fountain pens being mentioned throughout history. There was one account of a Caliph in Egypt demanding for a pen to be made that wouldn’t get his hands dirty, and that could be transported in any position without the ink spilling. He was provided a pen similar to what a fountain pen would be.

Further on, it was said that Leonardo Da Vinci was able to invent the fountain pen decades before what the records say. While it’d be cool if true, there were no records to show that he was able too. Interestingly, the papers he wrote was said to have ink patterns and lines similar to what a fountain pen would have made. There were even drawing made by the inventor resembling a fountain pen in his journals.

There have been records of pens with the same mechanisms as early as the 1600s, as noted by historians of the late 1800s. Of course, by the historian’s time, there were already fountain pens, so the words used to describe these pens were fountain pens.

1800’s

Back before the invention of the fountain pen, the writing instrument that was being used by the masses was the steel-tipped pen or even a quill. These are dip pens and required to be dipped into a well of ink to be able to write. They did not have any storage for ink, so you can imagine how tedious it was to repeated dip your pen into the bottled ink. What’s more, was that the ink always ran out quickly.

Much like the fountain pen, the steel-tipped pen used a nib to write and the nib was also disposable. You’d often see this pen in banks, schools, and other public places because they were cheap. Once you were done with the nib, you could pop it off and replace it with a new one. I guess you can compare it to how we use ballpoint pens now.

Having no ink storage on the pen itself meant always having a well or bottle of ink on hand.

You can imagine how big of a hassle that was. Furthermore, the pen was very messy.

They repeatedly had to dip in the steel nib for ink, meaning that their hands were always exposed to the ink. It would be fine, I guess if that were it, but the inks of that time were formulated very differently from the inks we use now. Many of those inks were toxic, and while they didn’t know that at the time, I’m sure those wouldn’t pass today’s standards.

It was early in the 1800s when the first patents of the fountain pen would emerge. They were:

NameDateContribution
Frederick FölschMay 1809First English Patent
Joseph BramahSeptember 1809Improved Fountain Pen Feed
John Scheffer1819 First Design With Commercial Success
Petrache PoenaruMay 25, 1827Fountain Pen With A Barrel
John Jacob Parker1832 Self-filler With A Screw-operated Piston
Source: Wikipedia

It’s generally accepted that Petrache Poenaru was the one with the first patent of an actual fountain pen. There have been some who have refuted this, but the general consensus point to the Romanian as the one deserving of the credit.

While the years after had seen many developments for the fountain pen, such as mass manufacturing, and employing thousands of workers in a new industry, suffice it to say, the first batch of fountain pens was far from perfect. They were regularly faulty, either leaking ink onto the paper or not writing at all.

If you’ve watched cartoons where the fountain pen shoots ink at people, this was the reason.

Around 1850, the introduction of three key materials was what really propelled the fountain pen into the mainstream, it was:

  • Iridium-tipped Gold Nib
  • Hard Rubber
  • Free-flowing Ink

In 1870, a Canadian by the name of Duncan Mackinnon living in New York, along with Alonzo T. Cross From Rhode Island created a type of fountain pen called the stylographic pen.

On a side note, it was Winston Churchill’s favorite type of pen. Check this out to read more on him.

With all these advances, there were still issues that needed to be addressed before the fountain pen would peak: they still leaked randomly and was inconsistent when writing.

There’s an interesting story involving an insurance broker in New York, around about 1883. He was just to close his biggest contract ever when his fountain pen exploded onto the page. It ruined the document. Rushing to get a replacement, he returned too late. A competing broker sealed the deal.

Determined not to have that happen again, he resolved to make his own pen. One that wouldn’t leak and would write when you want it to. One that used air pressure to regulate the flow of ink onto the page. This guy was named Lewis Waterman, founder of the Waterman Pen Company. It is still one of the first generation pens companies running to date.

While I’m not sure if the story was true or not, it is a fun story to hear. Moreover, the use of air pressure was the factor that was lacking in older models of the fountain pen which only used gravity and capillary action. He received a patent in 1884 and was the market leader for fountain pens until 1920.

Other market giants that were established during this time was The Parker Pen Company, in 1888, by George Safford Parker, and Wirt, which was based in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania.

It was during this time that fountain pen companies started tapping famous icons to help market their wares. One such icon was the Father of American Literature, Mark Twain.

He said: “None of us can have as many virtues as the fountain pen or half its cussedness, but we can try.”

This was mostly because it granted him a great deal of convenience when writing, he didn’t have to keep dipping his pen, plus he didn’t have to keep picking it up from the floor when it rolled off the table. The latter was because the fountain pen had a clip and crescent on it.

The pen he used was the Conklin Crescent Filler.

This pen was interesting in that it was one of the first pens to use a self-filler. In other words, the pens could refill itself through the use of a mechanism that would push air in and out of the pen, creating a vacuum inside the barrel or reservoir for an easier time filling it back up with ink.

The self-filler was created by William Purvis and he patented it in 1890.

After all this still, leaking was an issue that would easily go away.

In around 1898, Parker released one of the pens that address this, called the Parker jointless. It was a pen where you could take out the nib and use it to seal the reservoir like a cork.

Here’s a picture of an ad for it.

Parker Jointless 1898 advertisement.jpg
https://www.vintagepens.com/middle-joint_eyedroppers.shtml, Public Domain, Link

Waterman, not to be outdone, released his own version of a pen in 1908 to address the leaking problem which was called the Safety Pen. This was one of the first pens that used a screw-on cap to prevent any ink from leaking out of the pen and ruining your shirts.

The 1900s

The 1900s saw many developments for the fountain pen and many patents were registered throughout this time. Here’s a list of some of the notable patents of the time:

NameDateContribution
The Button Filler1905An alternative to the Eyedropper Pen, you used a button that connects to the reservoir instead and press on it to create a vacuum
Lever Filler1908This mechanism used a lever to fill the pen in with ink. It is mostly light turning a light switch on and off but for fountain pens.
Click FillerThe click filler is the mechanism used for the Conklin Crescent Filler i.e. Mark Twain’s pen.
Matchstick Filler1910This is mostly just jamming a matchstick-sized stick to depress the J bar of the pen to fill the ink. In modern comparisons, it’s like when you need a safety pin to reset the modem of a router.
Coin FillerAugust 1904This is basically the same as the matchstick filler, but with a coin. Waterman used this to compete with the Lever Filler

For a great video on the history of fountain pens during the 1800 – 1900s, check this youtube video out:

The Pen Timeline

If you are curious about what kinds of pens were used before they fountain pen, you are not alone. I was, too. So I went around and gathered information on the pens used in olden times.

Writing InstrumentDateDescription
Reed Pens3000 BCMainly used by Egyptians, these were made from reed and shaped into pens
Stylus476–800 CEThe pens used during the dark ages. They resembled long nails and were made from metal.
Quills600 – 1800 ADThese were the most prominent writing instruments of olden times. They are made from bird feathers, mainly birds of flight. The best feathers were made from geese, swan, and turkey feathers.
Steel-tipped Pens1700 – 1800 ADThese are discussed above and were mainly made from steel as they were cheap during those times. They were disposable as well, so nibs were replaceable.
Fountain Pen1800 – PresentThe fountain pen was developed during this period. They were the go-to writing instruments of the time, and when ballpoints entered the picture, they became more of a status symbol.
Ballpoint Pen1888 – PresentInvented by Laszlo Biro, ballpoints were more accessible and cheaper than fountain pens.
Rollerball Pen1888 – PresentThey were invented at the same time as ballpoints, however they used the same ink as fountain pens, instead of oil-based ones. It was invented by John J. Loud.

Also, I threw in a graphic I made that shows the timeline of the modern pen. It’ll cover the time from steel-tipped pens to the modern ballpoint pen.

Related Questions

Are Modern Fountain Pens Eco-Friendly? Modern fountain pens are generally eco-friendly. While they use the same material as the regular ballpoint for some models, the length of use is the main factor when judging the impact on the environment.

Read more on it here.

scribblerplanet

Jm here! I run the Scribbler Planet website. If you're new to bullet journals and journaling, I think I can help you out. I've always had problems with keeping on track with what I'm doing, so when I heard bullet journaling could help I tried my hand at it. Here we are about a year later and I'm glad to say it significantly helped. Here's hoping I can help you do the same!

Recent Content