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1884 One Hundred Years Ago

May 2024
1min read

The first writing was probably a matter of smearing blood—or the juice of some plant—with a finger. When someone figured out that a hollow reed could be used to supply a steady flow of liquid to a flat surface, we had the first pen. This seems to have happened about twenty-seven hundred years before the birth of Christ.

Onward and upward it went, through various implements: the quill pen (introduced in the sixth century B.C. ) reigned for over a thousand years, and steel points appeared in 1780. The latter were elegant enough but involved the inconvenience of continual dipping into the ink supply. Handmade fountain pens came into being in the early nineteenth century, but these had to be filled with an eyedropper and never became popular. Then came Lewis Edson Waterman (1837–1901).

Waterman’s early career was unremarkable. He was a laborer, school-teacher, bookseller. He taught the Pitman system of shorthand for a while and sold life insurance in Boston. Poor health led to his retirement, and in 1883 he turned with new seriousness to a study that had interested him for some time—the perfection of the fountain pen. His experiments were successful, and he received the first of several patents on February 12, 1884.

This was for the most important of his improvements, the ink-feeding device. A piece of hard rubber was inserted into the barrel that held the pen nib, which was gold, in position. In the rubber was a square groove with narrow fissures that ran from the ink supply in the barrel to the nib of the pen and automatically controlled the flow of ink.

Waterman decided to establish a business in New York City. From a simple workshop in the back of a cigar store on Fulton Street, the Ideal Pen Company sold five hundred handmade pens in its first year. Waterman incorporated the business in 1887 as the L. E. Waterman Company and continued to improve his product until his death in 1901. On June 28, 1919, Lloyd George signed the Treaty of Versailles with a solid gold pen bearing the Waterman hallmark.

MARCH 28: Ten thousand people rioted in Cincinnati to protest the sentence received by the murderer William Berner: twenty years in the penitentiary. The local militia seemed sympathetic to the crowd, who set fire to the jailhouse. Berner, in a disguise designed to protect him, took advantage of the confusion to escape. The rioting continued for a second day. The courthouse was also set on fire, and the militia was now shooting to kill. At least two hundred people were killed or wounded. The riots had been sparked by a local meeting at which a speaker complained of the prevalence of violent crime throughout the country and of the leniency of the courts in dispensing justice.

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