When Was the Fountain Pen Invented?

If you spend hours typing away at a keyboard, your fingers likely crave pen and paper when you finally leave the office. Once you close your laptop to write in your favorite journal, a cup of tea (add honey, of course) and your trusty fountain pen set the scene.

Ink flowing effortlessly, you make stroke after stroke on the blank page. Your pen is an extension of your hand, and as a long-time fountain pen user, you might have taken this luxurious writing experience for granted. If you’ve ever wondered, “When was the fountain pen invented?” this article (a deep-dive into the fountain pen history) is for you.

Dip pens versus fountain pens - a nib comparison

Who Invented the Fountain Pen?

Just as it’s impossible to pinpoint one person as “the” inventor of the light bulb, it’s impossible to single out exactly who invented the fountain pen. Decades of collaborative innovations paved the way for it. Lewis Waterman is considered the inventor of the modern fountain pen. The first functional fountain pen isn’t actually known, and Waterman wasn’t the first to make a feed, but the one he developed worked better than others. Lewis Waterman’s modern fountain pen was simple, convenient and portable with its own ink supply built in.

When Was The Fountain Pen Invented?

As a traveling salesman, Waterman had every incentive to improve the fountain pen. The pens with built-in reservoirs by previous 19th century inventors weren’t reliable, and carrying around an inkpot was highly inconvenient. The 1850s saw a steady stream of pen innovations, but Waterman paved the way for more widely used fountain pens. His main innovation was perfecting a simple feed system that could effectively exchange ink and air for a smoother, uninterrupted writing experience. Waterman invented and patented the first modern fountain pen in 1884 in New York. His design addressed and improved earlier fountain pen issues, like inconsistent ink flow and leakage.

Historical Timeline of the Pen

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Approximately two thousand years old, these ancient manuscripts were discovered between 1947-1956 in Khirbet Qumran, the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. Jan Gunneweg from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem details what type of writing tool might have been used. The ancients often used metal tools or their fingers to inscribe a word or sentence into a wall, plaster, or ceramic. When it comes to parchment paper, there were only two types of early pens at a scribe’s disposal: a quill and a reed pen.

It’s possible that the Dead Sea Scrolls were written with a reed pen. Reeds are found in ponds and wetlands and when they dry, they lose layers of skin like an onion to reveal a smooth underside. The Hebrew scribe would have cut a piece of bamboo reed until he could see the hollow pipe inside. The tip would have been shaved down to a triangular point, with gravity drawing the ink down and out through its hollow interior onto the parchment.

The Quill Pen

Explain That Stuff says the word “pen” comes from the Latin word “penna”, meaning feather. From the Roman Empire onward, most writing utensils were quills made from bird feathers. They sharpened the end of the feather to a fine point with a knife, dipped it into a pot of ink, and scribbled away. When the quill went blunt, it had to be sharpened again.

The quill pen was effective but had to be replaced often once it was too short to sharpen anymore. The development of iron and steel during the 18th century Industrial Revolution made quill pens obsolete. Naturally, people preferred the technology of a durable metal nib over neverending quill-sharpening and turkey-chasing.

The Fountain Pen

The fountain pen is a sophisticated piece of technology made up of three parts. The barrel holds the ink, the feed transports the ink from the barrel to the nib, and the nib applies the ink to the paper. Fountain pens work with a delicate balance of applied pressure, ink and air exchange, gravity and capillary action. We’ll discuss capillary action more later in this article.

Check out a brief video of the History of the Fountain Pen.

The Early Beginnings of Fountain Pens

Poenaru’s Fountain Pen

Before the fountain pen, your only option was to carry around a quill and an inkwell. Petrache Poenaru, a Romanian inventor, was issued a patent from the French government in 1827. His fountain pen had a barrel made from a large swan quill. This article from GoPens says Poenaru described it as a “Never-ending portable pen, which recharges itself with ink.

Waterman’s Fountain Pen

To answer the question of “When was the fountain pen invented?”, we look to Lewis Waterman. As the inventor of the modern fountain pen, Waterman was granted his first US patent in 1884. He noted that his invention was designed to “Secure and automatically regulate a certain and uniform flow of ink to the pen, and also prevent excessive discharge of ink when the pen is in use.” According to ThoughtCo, Waterman’s fountain pen utilized capillary action. This draws ink from a pen’s barrel (housing the reservoir), and feeds it down through the nib and out the tip. The air hole in the nib and grooves inside the feed mechanism resulted in a steady flow of ink on paper.

Early European Reservoir Pens

Before Waterman’s fountain pen, the concept of a self-feeding pen was explored. In 1636, German inventor Daniel Schwenter designed a device that was “A pen that writes by itself’. It contained two parts, a reservoir for ink and a barrel. This stored ink allowed for a more continuous and controlled flow. Later in 1663, essayist Samuel Pepys mentioned an early fountain-style pen with a quill stuck inside another quill for a different type of reservoir, sealed with a tiny cork.

Problems with Early Fountain Pens

It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that fountain pens became more widely used. Still, these early pens weren’t intuitive until further innovations came onto the scene in the early 1900s. Early fountain pens were often just as impractical as dip pens. Firstly, the highly corrosive inks quickly ate away at any metal parts of the pen. Secondly, the way in which air pressure affected the ink flow was still a mystery. Early fountain pens were prone to leaking, clogging, corrosion, and were messy to refill with an eyedropper.

Why Is It Called A Fountain Pen?

From a historical context, a fountain pen was a pen that had ink inside of it-anything that wasn’t a dip pen. The term describes any writing instrument with the capacity to store ink in an internal reservoir for continuous writing, avoiding the need for constant dipping in ink. Technically, even ballpoint pens and rollerball pens could be classified as fountain pens.

The metal nib became a distinct hallmark unique to the fountain pen. What was previously referenced as a constant, uninterrupted ink flow now became a steady flow of water-based ink from a reservoir through a metal nib.

Predecessors to the Fountain Pen

What Did They Use Before Fountain Pens?

To truly appreciate the invention of the fountain pen, we have to acknowledge what came before it. The earliest pens were called dip pens. They had to be repeatedly dipped in ink in order to write or draw. One could create a few words or a line at a time before re-dipping. The material used depended on geographic location. Ancients used hollow river reeds cut into a sharp nib. Reeds paved the way to quills, often shaped from goose or large swan feathers.

Problems with Dip Pens

Time-consuming, messy, and inconsistent, dip pens weren’t for the impatient. Dip pens required constant upkeep and skill to craft. Each quill could only write for a few pages before needing to be re-sharpened. The typical dip pen lasted about one week. Since the ink would run out every few words, writers had to constantly re-dip them. This frequent dipping caused splatters and splotches all over paper (and clothes). The fountain pen with its internal ink reservoir was a solution to these problems.

The Invention and Evolution of Fountain Pens

Why Were Fountain Pens Invented?

There were several factors leading up to the invention of fountain pens. Dip pens were highly inconvenient and required other tools to use and maintain. They were messy and required constant starting and stopping for the writer. As a self-contained writing instrument, the fountain pen offered reduced mess, a steady flow of ink, and continuous writing. The demand for a more efficient writing tool came with the increase in business and industry. Fountain pens became popular in professional occupations where a reliable and portable pen writing instrument was essential.

Prototypes and Early Designs

Arab Egypt

According to Wikipedia, the earliest mention of a pen that didn't have to be dipped in ink comes from caliphate Al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah of Arab Egypt in the year 973. He needed a pen that wouldn’t stain his hands or clothes. While the details of its creation are unclear, we know that his subordinates provided him with a pen that held ink in an internal reservoir so it could be held upside down without leaking.

Leonardo Da Vinci

It’s believed that Da Vinci invented a very rudimentary fountain pen in 1500. While there’s no hard evidence to confirm this, his journals depict drawings of a reservoir pen that was written using gravity and capillary action. Even more convincingly, historians note that his handwriting lacks the tell-tale signs of a dip pen, without ink flooding or splotches.

The Evolution of the Modern Pen

From fingers to metal tools, reed pens to quill pens up to today’s modern fountain pen, the history of pens spans the globe. The Ancient Egyptians, the Romans, and the Europeans all had their unique versions. What sets modern fountain pens apart from early pens is the refinement of the fountain pen filling system.

Before internal reservoirs were developed, quills or “dip pens” had to be constantly tapped in ink to write or draw, often staining the surface on which they were written. This made for a stop-and-go, tedious and messy writing experience that would have tried the patience of even a Biblical scribe. When ink cartridges and converters came onto the scene in the mid-1800s, everything changed.

Let’s explore the different fountain pen filling systems and how they work. For our visual learners, watch “How to fill a fountain pen-Filling Systems Explained”.

Cartridge Fountain Pens

One of the biggest benefits of using a fountain pen is its longevity. When it runs dry, you simply refill it depending on the pen’s filling system. Most fountain pens accept ink cartridges, which are small disposable tubes filled with ink. When a cartridge runs out, you simply replace it and get on with your writing.

Cartridge fountain pens are the most common style, as they are portable and easy to use. The standard international cartridge holds up to ¾ of a milliliter of ink. These pens have a tapered end with a bump in the center. When pierced, the ink flows from the cartridge through the feed and to the nib via capillary action. With some pocket-sized pens without converters, you will need to use a blunt-tip syringe to refill the cartridge.

Piston-Fill Fountain Pens

Before the invention of the cartridge-converter in the early 1900s, all fountain pens were considered “self-filling”. The first modern fountain pen was a piston-fill pen that made use of Waterman’s capillary principle. Designed by German pen manufacturers, the piston mechanism is the most widely used internal filling mechanism for modern fountain pens.

Unlike pens with a removable converter, a piston-filler uses the whole barrel of the pen, with the cap turning like a piston-knob. Instead of twisting the converter knob, you twist the cap on the end of the pen barrel to activate the internal piston. Today’s piston-fill fountain pens are usually designed with a translucent body so you can see how much ink remains in the pen.

Eyedropper Fountain Pens

These pens are filled with a syringe or eyedropper to transfer ink from the inkwell into the barrel. While eyedropper fountain pens are easy to spill while filling, they also have the highest ink-carrying capacity since they lack a filling mechanism. History buffs will love knowing that this is the oldest pen filling method to date.

Fountain Pen Feeds

The feed attaches the nib to your fountain pen’s ink reservoir. It allows for a “controlled leak”, but that not all feeds are the same.

Hand-cut ebonite feeds are on the expensive side but more malleable and porous with increased capillary action. Plastic feeds are more common, with a smooth surface. While they may not flow as well as an ebonite feed, they have almost-perfect ink-air exchange.

Fountain Pen Nibs

This is the metal part of the pen that makes contact with the paper. You can find them in extra fine, fine, medium and broad sizes, as well as italic and stub. The material, size, and shape of the nib depends on your writing style and preferred ink output.

Key Innovations and Patents

Air Pressure and Fountain Pens

Air pressure plays a crucial role in capillary action. This is the process in which reflexive forces draw ink down the reservoir and out through the nib onto paper. A breather hole in the nib helps regulate the flow and must be regularly unclogged. The way a fountain pen is held, temperature and altitude, and ink viscosity all contribute to the exchange of air pressure that leads to a smooth writing experience.

Fountain Pen Patents and Innovations

Frederick Fölsch was issued the first English patent for a fountain pen in February, 1809. A secondary patent for an improved pen was issued to Joseph Bramah in September, 1809. The first patent that saw commercial success was for John Scheffer’s “Penographic” in 1819. Another patent pioneer, John Jacob Parker, received a patent in 1832 for a self-filling pen with a screw-operated piston.

Three Inventions that Made the Modern Fountain Pen

The Iridium Tipped Gold Nib

Historically, fountain pen nibs were made entirely of gold or steel. The crystalline structure of iridium is super strong, making it the perfect material to tip on a flexible gold nib. It’s more expensive than gold, but lasts longer and is corrosion-resistant.

Hard Rubber

Also known as ebonite, hard rubber is reinforced for increased durability. It’s warm and comfortable in the hand and resists corrosion. Cheap and readily available, it was an easy addition to the manufacturing process.

Free Flowing Ink

Ink flow is everything in a fountain pen. Early fountain pen inks were often corrosive, clogging and damaging the pen mechanisms over time. Modern fountain pen inks usually contain water, dye, and additives to enhance and ensure a consistent ink flow.

Invention Time Period Characteristics and Impact

Iridium-Tipped Gold Nib

Late 19th Century

Characteristics: Combines the flexibility of gold with the durability of iridium.

Impact: Provided a smoother writing experience and reduced nib wear, leading to longer-lasting fountain pens.

Hard Rubber

Late 19th Century

Characteristics: Durable, stable, and easy to mold.

Impact: Enabled mass production of fountain pens and improved ink containment, making pens more reliable and less prone to leaks.

Free Flowing Ink

Early 20th Century

Characteristics: Less viscous than previous inks, flowed more smoothly.

Impact: Improved the writing experience by reducing clogging and allowing for consistent ink flow, essential for the functionality of fountain pens.

Modern Fountain Pens and Their History

Crafted from semi-precious metals and resins, modern fountain pens date back to the early 19th century. Inventors Lewis Waterman and George S. Parker are the primary innovators to refine the fountain pen. The transition from quills and dip pens to the convenience of refillable ink reservoirs was pivotal in the evolution of writing instruments. Ditching the inkwell for portable pens marked a turning point in fountain pen history. Over the years, technological and design advancements have shaped fountain pens into luxury collectibles. Today’s fountain pens blend classic aesthetics with modern functionality, transcending their utilitarian roots to become a symbol of sophistication.

Are Fountain Pens Still Relevant Today?

We have one question for you, Pen Pals: if fountain pens weren’t still relevant, would you be reading this blog? In today’s digital age, we are glued to our keyboards for both work and pleasure, sacrificing personality and creativity for efficiency.

In recent years, there’s been a revival of writers wanting to enjoy the art and nostalgia of fountain pens. No experience can compare to the physicality of putting pen to paper and letting the ink flow. Better yet, studies show that handwriting versus typing improves learning and memory recall.

Fountain Pen History FAQ

When Did Fountain Pens Become Popular?

Fountain pens began gaining popularity in the late 19th century. After the first fountain pen patent was granted to Lewis Waterman in 1884, they became more widely accepted thanks to their reliability.

When Did Fountain Pens Replace Dip Pens?

Fountain pens had largely replaced dip pens by the mid-20th century. The convenience of not having to dip the pen in an inkwell and the availability of disposable ink cartridges contributed to this transition.

Are Fountain Pens Making a Comeback?

Though not as well-known as the ballpoint or rollerball, fountain pens are experiencing a resurgence for good reason. The range of styles, rise in bullet journaling, and use as a more environmentally friendly option compared to disposable pens makes them appealing to many.

What Did People Use Before Fountain Pens?

Before the fountain pen, people of antiquity used dip pens. These were made of hollow reeds or feather quills. In the 19th century, metal or glass dip pens were common predecessors.

History You Can Write With

So, when was the fountain pen invented? It was technically invented in 1884, but that was only the beginning of the innovation. Modern fountain pen companies like Goldspot are still releasing contemporary designs for pen connoisseurs like you. As a leading retailer for fountain pens and ink, we’re sure to have something that strikes your fancy. Fountain pens are a unique blend of past and present technologies, only now, you can order them in every color imaginable.

We hope you’ve enjoyed diving into fountain pen history and learning about the first inventors and patents of early pens. We hope this information gives you a deeper appreciation for the humble fountain pen.

About the Author

Madeleine is a copywriter and video script whiz for creative and inventive brands. As an empathy-based marketer, every website, landing page, blog, email, and video she writes showcases her clients at their best. Some say she's a mind-reader, but she's really just an expert listener with one goal in mind: to inspire readers (and viewers) to take action. A true logophile, she's the one who (unabashedly) keeps a hard copy thesaurus on her desk. When she's not on set or crafting copy, you can find her nose in a book sipping a matcha latte.

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