Fountain pens were born out of sheer exasperation. In 1884 Lewis Edson Waterman, an insurance salesman, had just won an important contract from several rivals. Waterman handed his client a fine quill pen and a bottle of ink to sign the contract. The pen spattered the document. Waterman hurried away to find another form … and a rival stepped in and completed the deal.
This incident spurred Waterman to design the forerunner of the modern fountain pen. He applied the principles of capillary attraction – by which sap defies gravity and rises in plants. In the piece of hard rubber linking the pen’s ink reservoir and the nib, Waterman cut a hair-thin channel. This admitted a small amount of air into the ink chamber, keeping the internal air pressure in balance, so that the ink leaked out only when pressure was put on the nib.
The first Waterman pens were filled with an eyedropper, a technique soon replaced by the development of flexible rubber sacs which drew in ink after the air had been squeezed out.
The modern fountain pen, only slightly modified since 1884, is the descendant of a long line. The ancient Egyptians used a simple reed stem filled with ink, and a nib of copper. The Romans made pens not only out of quills, but also of bamboo, which could be worked to carry a reservoir of ink.
The term ‘fountain pen’, indicating that the pen contained a reservoir, was first used in England in the 17th century.
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