Tracking The History Of Writing Instruments

That pen you’re holding in your hand, probably designed with laser precision in some 21st century facility in Japan, has come a long way in the last 5,000 years or so.

A recent piece on the patent history of ink pens over at IPWatchdog inspired us to round up a collection of timelines that describe the evolution of pens from the crude reeds used to carve clay in ancient Mesopotamia to some of the classics that we prize today.

A good place to start is a paper on the origins of writing instruments by the UK’s Writing Equipment Society. It traces the beginnings all the way back to 30,000 BCE when man was still drawing on cave walls and follows the trail through to the use of quill pens beginning about 1500 years ago.

Rick Conner at Penspotters advances pens from quill writing to the invention of steel points used for dip pens in the early 19th century and carries them on through the fountain pen development wars, when the Watermans and the Crosses and the others began to appear.

The Daily Kos offers a brief look at how fountain pens later led to the development of Biro’s ballpoint pens, and IPWatchdog provides an even more detailed trace of writing instrument history using patent applications and descriptions of the major pen makers like Reynolds and Bic.

Laszlo Biro Patent

The History Channel has a great 3-minute video that touches on the beginnings of pencils – did you know the Romans actually used lead sticks? – and pens. They also describe the discovery of highlighters, which apparently started out as regular markers for children.

And then, because the Parker 51 deserves its own little section, Forbes magazine describes how that most classic of pens came to be, including the reason they were made of lucite (Parker ink was corrosive to other materials).

Parker 51

That, of course, leads us up to modern pens, which can trace their roots back to the invention of the gel pen in 1984 by Sakura.

Hope you enjoyed reading about the history of writing instruments as much as we did. If you have any factoids about pen history to share, be sure to let us know.

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Tony Bridges

As a seasoned journalist and freelance writer, I've spent over three decades telling stories and exploring the world through the written word. With a passion for writing instruments, I found my niche at The Pen Vibe, a blog that shares our collective fascination with pens, pencils, and other tools that have shaped the art of writing.

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