Friday, February 4, 2011

The History of Writing Utensils

I'm in the process of writing a time travel set in the old West in 1891. My heroine writes an article for the newspaper and goes in search of writing materials. So, it became necessary for me to conduct a little research on the topic.

When I started school in the early 1950s, our desk still had ink wells and the pens we used were refillable by using a plunger type device. It could sometimes be a messy process and we often had ink smudged fingers and papers. In high school we graduated to the ink cartridges you dropped into the pen and then ball point pens.

For my research, I knew my heroine would be using either a quill pen, which had it's own hollow channel, or possibly an early fountain pen. Steel nips for pens became common in the 1830s  and soon replaced the quill pen. The oldest known fountain pen that has survived was developed by a Frenchman in 1702. The first self-filling fountain pen was developed by John Jacob Parker in 1831 but early pens were plagued with problems--ink spills and problems that made them impractical for use.

Louis Waterman is credited with developing the first practical fountain pen. He added an air hole in the steel hip and three groves inside the feed mechanism. This allowed the ink to flow more smoothly.

The most competitive part of the fountain pen industry was the method the pen used to fill the ink reservoir. Earlier pens used an eyedropper. Next came the flexible rubber sac that you squeezed the air out of allowing it to draw in the ink. A variety of other methods were designed with the lever filler by Walter Sheaffer being the design used most into the 1940s.

The lever type pen is the one I first remember using. Then in 1950 the cartridges were developed though I don't believe they were readable available for a few years.

Though ballpoint pens actually date back to the late 19th Century, they weren't exploited commercially. The first commercial ball point pens were made by Josef Lazio in 1943 in Britain and sales skyrocketed during WWII. They were more durable and could survive battlefield environments. They weren't introduced to the US market until 1945.


I decided in my story the heroine wouldn't have access to a fountain pen so, she starts out with a quill pen. After a messy start she gives up and picks up a lead pencil. This story is a follow up story to A Law of Her Own.

Thanks for Reading and Writing!


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