The fountain pen has been one of our trustworthy companions over the years, shaping the way humanity has evolved. From correspondence to record-keeping and documentation, this humble tool has become a symbol of elegance and status today. It is, as well, a confidant of our innermost thoughts, and the engine that sets our creative ideas in motion. The fact that today we enjoy a more beautiful design, more spectacular ornamentation and advanced functionality is due to the many improvements the pen has enjoyed since its invention.
But to whom do we owe all this? Have you ever wondered who are some of the leading figures behind the evolution of the fountain pen? Let’s find out!
Petrache Poenaru was a prominent Romanian inventor known as the creator of the world’s first fountain pen. While studying in Paris in 1827, he worked on what we might refer to as ”the early stage of fountain pens” as, at the time, the writing tools available to him were a quill (a feather from a large bird) or a metal-nibbed pen dipped into an ink pot. The main inconvenience was that both options were messy because of the ink stains they left behind.
In his quest to find a way to make his work easier while taking notes and transcribing lectures, Poenaru came up with the idea of creating a writing instrument that used a swan’s quill as an ink reservoir. The ink flowed directly into the pen’s tip, thus eliminating the need for an ink pot, which often stained the paper.
Another improvement that this prototype brought was that it replaced the feathers and the pens with metal nib. The discomfort caused by scratching the paper while writing has been avoided. Poenaru used to describe his invention as a ”portable pen which does not end, which feeds itself alone with ink”.
A controversy arose over the authorship of the prototype of the fountain pen, with many people attributing the merits to the American inventor Lewis Edson Waterman. However, the chronology of events works in Poenaru’s favour, as Edson was born only a decade after the Romanian received a patent for his creation.
Lewis Edson Waterman is known in history for holding multiple fountain pen patents as well as founding the Waterman Pen Company. The element of novelty he created regarding the fountain pen was the “three-fissure feed”. He turned his dissatisfaction with a low-quality pen, which leaked onto a relevant insurance contract resulting in the loss of a customer, into an opportunity to improve the writing instrument.
Thus, employing the capillarity principle, he used one of the most common elements around us, the air. He added an air hole in the nib and three grooves inside the feed mechanism, obtaining a steady and even ink flow.
Although the innovation brought by Waterman dates from the 19th century, some of his high-quality fountain pens are still being produced nowadays in many shapes, and as a form of recognition of his merits, he was included in 2006 in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Theodor Kovàcs is another key figure who contributed significantly to the innovation process of the fountain pen, his models being considered revolutionary. In the early 1920s, the Hungarian engineer designed a differential piston filling system, hoping to fix several shortcomings that fancy pens had at the time.
After he was granted a patent for this model in 1923, he licensed his invention to Edmund and Mavro Moster brothers. However, the design did not go into large-scale production due to financial problems. Faced with this situation, Kovàcs looked for other suitable business partners, this time in Germany, getting in touch with Günther Wagner, Montblanc, and Soennecken.
The differential piston mechanism patent was sold in 1927 to Günther Wagner. Pelikan was the financier of the design, offering Mr. Kovàcs the chance to prepare the assembly line for production of the fountain pens. In 1929, Pelikan re-patented the product under its name and launched it on the market.
George Parker is the man to whom the Pen Industry owes thanks for creating the ”Lucky Curve” ink feeding system. He came up with this idea in 1894, thus solving some of the main problems commonly faced by pen lovers at the time. Among the drawbacks, the most common ones were: difficulties in starting the ink flow when they wanted to write something; poor, excessive, or irregular ink flow; ink dripping from the pen when the reservoir was not full or almost empty, and ink overflowing when the pen was turned in the opposite position after use.
Parker wanted to create a continuous connection between the nib and the inner walls of the barrel. He noticed that the main problem was in the design of the ink feed. As a starting point, he tried an ink feed with a plug at the end, which forced the ink to run through a small hole, which was the beginning of the ink channel.
He was an advocate of constant innovation. In the early stages of his work, he also developed a priming finger with a slit in it. He noticed that a removable flexible priming finger over the pen would form a capillary space. Thus, the fountain pen would have always been kept inked from above and ready for use.
Parker also designed a feed with an improved over-underfeed, which helped to prevent a blob when the ink level in the pen was low. His driving philosophy was “It will always be possible to make a better pen”.
Looking back, it is fascinating how these impressive developments took place almost 100 years ago when technological processes were not yet so advanced, however human genius managed to overcome them.
But let’s take a look at what’s new nowadays, what improvements have been made to writing instruments? Among them, an honourable mention would be the “Pull+Twist” filling mechanism developed by Otto in collaboration with Star Designer Mark Braun. As easy as it seems to work, the mechanism is quite intricate. However, with a slow pull, you bring the fountain pen into the filling position, then you turn it to draw the ink over the nib.
And just like the filling mechanism of the design08 there are many other innovations on the market waiting to be discovered.
Who would have thought that a fountain pen could go through so many stages? Well, perfection takes time. So grab your favorite pen and work your magic! Your story won’t write itself.