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Pam Arnold, age 8, of Admore, Okla., for her question:


A fountain pen is a writing instrument that has its own built in ink supply. The first practical fountain pen ever made was the work of a United States inventor named Lewis Waterman. He came up with his bright idea in 1884.

Waterman's first fountain pen was filled with ink squeezed from an eyedropper.

It wasn't until 1913 that the next giant step was taken in fountain pens. Then an American named W.A. Schaeffer developed a lever filled fountain pen. This instrument held a large supply of ink and didn't have to be filled too often.

During the 1920s, the first disposable ink cartridges for fountain pens were developed and put on the market. With this improvement, it wasn't necessary to handle bottles of ink.

Another American, this one an inventor named John Loud, came up with the world's first ballpoint pen during the 1880s. Early models, however, didn't hold a supply of ink and had to be dipped from time to time into an inkwell.

It wasn't until the mid 1940s that the first commercially successful ball point pens were developed. And it was in 1951 when the marker pen was introduced.

Today, more than 85 percent of all pens made in the United States are ball points. Ball points are convenient because they do not require refilling. Also, many are inexpensive.

The ball point gets its name from the hard, tiny ball that is its writing tip. The ball is held in a socket below a tube leading from the ink supply. Slightly less than half of the ball sticks out below the socket. The ink wets the ball and as the pen moves across the paper, the ball rotates and transfers the ink from the ball to the paper.

The ball in today's pen is usually made of tungsten carbide or a similar metal. The ink is syrupy and is stored in an open ended tube with a grease plug on top of the ink. The plug allows the ink to flow and keeps it from leaking out the top of the reservoir.

The earliest pens were sharp pieces of metal or bone. As early as 300 B.C., the Greeks and Egyptians made pens from hollow reeds of the calamus plant. They poured ink in the stem and squeezed it onto the surface as needed.

Then, about 50 B.C., men discovered the goose quill. When this large feather was sharpened, it made an excellent writing instrument. The word pen itself, as a matter of fact, comes from the Latin penna, which means feather.

Metal pen points, often called nibs, were later added to the quill. The nib tips did not wear out as fast as quill tips. Nib tipped quill pens were widely used until the mid 1800s.

By 1850, pen manufacturers were using alloys of rhodium, osmium and iridium to make very hard tips. Also, many pens were made of metal and some had precious stones as tips.


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