History of Pens & Pencils

Early writers didn’t have the enormous range of pens, pencils and other writing implements we have at our fingertips today. In the Middle East, where writing began, reeds and rushes grew in many areas. So people cut lengths of reeds, sharpened the ends, dipped them into soot or ink and used them to write with.

Since then, writing has progressed leaps and bounds. And the need for greater accuracy and speed has led to many improvements in writing instruments. The basic rules behind pens and other tools of the trade, however, have remained much the same.

Quill Pens

The first quill pens were made in about 500BC and were still in use in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Quill pens were made from swan or goose feathers, cut into a point at one end to make a nib. This was then dipped in ink.

Quill pens were quick and handy to use. The only problem was that they kept going blunt and having to be resharpened.

Stylus Style

In Greek and Roman times, metal and bone replaced the reeds of the earliest pens.

Writers used styli of bronze, bone or ivory to scratch letters on to was panels. The pointed end of the stylus was used for writing with, the blunt end for erasing mistakes.

Nibs of Steel

The first metal nibs were so hard and rigid, they scratched paper to pieces. But by the mid-1800s, things had improved and steel-nibbed pens became very popular.

The first fountain pens used eye-droppers to contain their ink but the ink kept clotting and clogging up the nib.

The first workable fountain pen was produced by Lewis Waterman of the USA in 1884. You can still buy Waterman pens today. One problem remained, however. Every time the pen ran out of ink, it had to be refilled. This could be messy and time-consuming.

In the 1950s, an answer was found – the disposable ink cartridge. Once its ink supply was used up, it could be thrown away and a new cartridge inserted.

Pencil Power

Pencils were first made in about 1795. A pencil is a stick of “lead” (it’s actually a mixture of clay and graphite), held inside a wooden case. Bet you didn’t know that?!?

Pencils have different degrees of hardness or softness, indicated by the letters printed on them. Soft pencils (B and 2B) contain more graphite in their lead. Hard pencils (H and 2H) contain more clay.

Ballpoint Pens

These days, we live in the “disposable age” and most people use a ballpoint pen, which has a tiny ball-bearing in its writing tip, instead of a nib. As you write, the ballbearing gets coated in ink from a tube inside the pen and rolls the ink on to the paper. When the ink runs dry, you can throw the pen away and get a new one.

Did you know…?

The inventor of the biro was Mr Ladislao Josef Biro, a Hungarian living in Argentina. He registered his invention in 1938.

The American, Thomas Edison, is best known for his invention of the electric light bulb and the phonograph. But another of his more unusual inventions was an electric pen. It was designed to make copies of handwritten documents but it never really caught on.

In Ancient Roman times, ink was made from soot and water.

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