Facts That Figure: Pens
By: C.G. Hoffman
How is it that when it comes time to clean out one’s drawers, hundreds of pens come to the surface, but when you need a pen to jot down a message, there are none to be found? Read on to find out how pens have become such an intrinsic part of our lives.
• The earliest records of the first pen invented date back thousands of years ago to the Ancient Egyptians. They created the first pens, which could write on papyrus. They were made out of wood and bamboo straws, and the ink was made of a mixture of soot and beeswax.
• For centuries, the writing instrument of choice was a feather quill dipped into ink. Ashkenazic sofrim today, commonly use turkey feathers dipped in a special ink, while until recently, Sephardic sofrim were accustomed to writing Torah scrolls with sharpened reeds.
• The original idea for an ink-holding pen was actually conceived over a thousand years ago, for an Egyptian caliph who got fed up with having ink all over his hands and clothes.
• Nobody knows who invented the original fountain pen, but various versions have been around since at least the 17th century. By the early 18th century, pens that held a reservoir of ink were being called fountain pens.
• Chalk up another loss for the Nazis: The ballpoint pen was invented by a Hungarian Jewish refugee who fled from the Nazis to Argentina. As a journalist, he noticed that the ink on the newspaper presses dried quickly, unlike fountain pen ink. He combined thicker ink with a new pen tip, a free-turning ball in a socket. The ball would pick up the ink from a cartridge and then roll to dispense it onto paper. In England, ballpoint pens are still known as “biros.”
• All it took was a dropped “H” to become a household name. In 1949 French Baron Bich dropped the “H” from his name and began selling his cheap ballpoint pens under the name “BIC.” It soon dominated the market, and 14 million pieces of the BIC Crystal are now sold each day.
• A special pen was formulated for the Apollo space mission. The Space Pen was created to be able to write upside down, underwater, and in zero gravity. It can also write on oily surfaces and endure extreme temperatures. They are still available for sale, under the “Fisher Space Pen” brand.
• U.S. presidents use a different pen to sign each document; no pens are ever reused. Specially engraved pens are available for each use, which are then gifted to supporters.
• The most popular promotional item in the world is still pens!
• Today’s pens can be had for pennies, but if you’re rich and famous, an ordinary pen just won’t do. The most expensive pen in the world sold for $8 million dollars, and is encrusted with black diamonds and rubies. There are many luxury pen brands, with Mont Blanc being one of the most renowned. Their pens have a distinctive white snowflake on the top that echo the snow capped Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. Their pens range from a few hundred dollars to a cool $1.5 million.
• Do you tend to chew on pen caps? Stop now! More than 100 people a year die by suffocating on pen caps. Bic pens now have a hole on the top of the cap to prevent suffocation.
• A regular Bic pen can draw a line about 1 1/4 miles long! That’s more than six times the height of the Eiffel Tower!
• The average pen can write about 45,000 words before it runs out of ink.