20 August 2008

The History Waterman Pen and Fountain Pen


Lewis Waterman patented the first practical fountain pen in 1884. Writing instruments designed to carry their own supply of ink had existed in principle for over one hundred years before Waterman's patent. For example, the oldest known fountain pen that has survived today was designed by a Frenchmen named M. Bion and dated 1702. Peregrin Williamson, a Baltimore shoemaker, received the first American patent for a pen in 1809. John Scheffer received a British patent in 1819 for his half quill, half metal pen that he attempted to mass manufacture. John Jacob Parker patented the first self-filling fountain pen in 1831. However, early fountain pen models were plagued by ink spills and other failures that left them impractical and hard to sell.

The fountain pen's design came after a thousand years of using quill-pens. Early inventors observed the apparent natural ink reserve found in the hollow channel of a bird's feather and tried to produce a similar effect, with a man-made pen that would hold more ink and not require constant dipping into the ink well. However, a feather is not a pen, only a natural object modified to suit man's needs. Filling a long thin reservoir made of hard rubber with ink and sticking a metal 'nib' at the bottom was not enough to produce a smooth writing instrument. Lewis Waterman, an insurance salesman, was inspired to improve the early fountain pen designs after destroying a valuable sales contract with leaky-pen ink. Lewis Waterman's idea was to add an air hole in the nib and three grooves inside the feed mechanism.

A mechanism is composed of three main parts. The nib, which has the contact with the paper. The feed or black part under the nib controls the ink flow from the reservoir to the nib. The round barrel that holds the nib and feed on the writing end protects the ink reservoir internally (this is the part that you grip while writing).

All pens contain an internal reservoir for ink. The different ways that reservoirs filled proved to be one of the most competitive areas in the pen industry. The earliest 19th century pens used an eyedropper; by 1915, most pens had switched to having a self-filling soft and flexible rubber sac as an ink reservoir. To refill these pens, the reservoirs were squeezed flat by an internal plate, then the pen's nib was inserted into a bottle of ink and the pressure on the internal plate was released so that the ink sac would fill up drawing in a fresh supply of ink.

Several different patents issued for the self-filling fountain pen design:

* The Button Filler: Patented in 1905 and first offered by the Parker Pen Co. in 1913 as an alternative to the eyedropper method. An external button connected to the internal pressure plate that flattened the ink sac when pressed.

* Lever Filler: Walter Sheaffer patented the lever filler in 1908. The W.A. Sheaffer Pen Company of Fort Madison, Iowa introduced it in 1912. An external lever depressed the flexible ink sac. The lever fitted flush with the barrel of the pen when it was not in use. The lever filler became the winning design for the next forty years, the button filler coming in second.

* Click Filler: First called the crescent filler, Roy Conklin of Toledo commercially produced the first one. A later design by Parker Pen Co. used the name click filler. When two protruding tabs on the outside of the pen pressed, the ink sac deflated. The tabs would make a clicking sound when the sac was full.

* Matchstick Filler: Introduced around 1910 by the Weidlich Company. A small rod mounted on the pen or a common matchstick depressed the internal pressure plate through a hole in the side of the barrel.

* Coin Filler: Developed by Lewis Waterman in an attempt to compete with the winning lever filler patent belonging to Sheaffer. A slot in the barrel of the pen enabled a coin to deflate the internal pressure plate, a similar idea to the matchstick filler.

There are nine standard nib-sizes, with three different nib-tip cuts: straight, oblique and italic. The early inks caused steel nibs to quickly corrode and gold nibs held up to the corrosion. Iridium used on the very tip of the nib replaced gold because gold was too soft. Most owners had their initials engraved on the clip. It took about four months to break in a new writing instrument since the nib was designed to flex as pressure was put on it (allowing the writer to vary the width of the writing lines) each nib wore down accommodating to each owner's own writing style. People did not tend to loan their fountain pens to anyone for that reason.

The ink cartridge introduced around 1950 was a disposable, pre-filled plastic or glass cartridges designed for clean and easy insertion. They were an immediate success. The introduction of the ballpoints, however, overshadowed the invention of the cartridge and dried up business for the fountain pen industry. Fountain pens sell today as a classic writing instrument and the original pens have become very hot collectibles.

Who is Lewis Waterman

Lewis Waterman
Residence - 265 Macon Street, Brooklyn, New York City
Born - Decatur, Otsego County, N.Y. - 1837
Death - 1901

Invented the capillary feed in fountain pens - now universally used - that allows for even ink flow. Though necessity may be the mother of invention, perhaps it is frustration that fuels the fire; or so it seemed for Lewis Waterman. In 1883, Lewis Waterman was an insurance broker in New York City, getting ready to sign one of his hottest contracts. In honor of the occasion, Lewis Waterman bought a new fountain pen that he considered far more stylish than a cumbersome dip pen and ink well. With the contract on the table and the pen in the client’s hand, the pen refused to write, and actually leaked onto the precious document. Horrified, Lewis Waterman raced back to his office for another contract, but a competing broker had closed the deal.

Determined to never again suffer such humiliation, Waterman began to make fountain pens in his brother’s workshop. Lewis Waterman used the capillarity principle which allowed air to induce a steady and even flow of ink. He christened his pen "the Regular," decorated it with wood accents, and obtained a patent for it in 1884. In his first year of operation, Waterman sold his hand-made pens out of the back of a cigar shop. He guaranteed the pens for five years and advertised in a trendy magazine, The Review of Review. The orders filtered in.

By 1899, Lewis Waterman opened a factory in Montreal and was offering a variety of designs. In 1901, upon Waterman’s death, his nephew, Frank D. Waterman took the business overseas and increased sales to 350,000 pens per year. The Treaty of Versailles was signed using a solid gold Waterman pen, a far cry from the day Lewis Waterman lost his important contract due to a leaky fountain pen.

Lewis Edson Waterman is commonly cited as being the inventor of the first practical fountain pen, just as Henry Ford is often supposed to be the inventor of the automobile. Neither supposition is completely accurate; however, it is certainly true that Waterman was the first big international success among fountain pen makers.

The story of how Waterman invented the multi-channel feed back in the 1870s is a typical stirring tale of Yankee Ingenuity. As the tale is told, Waterman (an insurance salesman at the time) loaned a new reservoir pen he had bought to a client to sign a policy; unfortunately, the pen (as was typical of these early examples) refused to do anything but blot the contract. The client, taking all this as an ill omen, nixed the deal.

Retiring to his brother's upstate New York farm for some serious whittling, Waterman soon came up with his feed, which he fitted to a pen made by his brother from a wagon wheel spoke. The pen worked well enough to encourage him to begin manufacturing and selling them on a small scale beginning in the early 1880s. He was granted patents on his innovations (which also included a process for machining decorative chasing onto hard rubber pen barrels) in 1883, and incorporated in 1888.

Thanks to heavy investment in magazine advertisements, Waterman was soon nationally and internationally recognized as a leader in the young industry.

Waterman's globe trademark was no idle boast; the company enjoyed a very large export trade, and by the 1920s had subsidiaries in Canada, France, and the U.K. The company's products earned a gold medal at the Paris Exposition in 1900 (which also saw the appearance of the first electric escalator) , a year before L. E. Waterman's death.

Waterman pens set the pace for penmakers up through World War I, and were extensively copied, both directly and indirectly, despite any number of patents on the Waterman innovations. The high point of Waterman's popularity was probably the decade of the 1920s, during which they offered a huge variety of models and sizes.

In the 1930s, having been slow to respond to technical and stylistic innovations by the competition, Waterman began to lose ground. During this time, they sold the Patrician, one of the rarest and most avidly-sought of vintage U.S. pens (examples in good condition can fetch $1,500 or more). The Hundred-Year models from the 1930s and 40s are also very expensive and difficult to find. During the later '40s and the '50s, the company really ran out of gas, and the remains of the U.S. Waterman operations were finally sold to Bic in 1959, forming the basis of that French firm's American production facilities.

The fact that the Waterman name persists to this day can also be attributed to the French. In 1926, a Waterman rep by the name of Jules Fagard established a French subsidiary called JiF-Waterman; ten years later, they would invent the first practical disposable ink cartridge (originally a glass capsule). JiF-Waterman entered the post-World-War-II era in pretty good shape, thanks to astute management by Fagard and his widow Elsa; when the parent company finally gave up the ghost, the French subsidiary carried on the name with further distinguished products. Waterman is still based in France, but has been back under American ownership (by the toiletries giant Gilette) for a few years now.

Source: http://inventors.about.com

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