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10 January, 2022

History Of Waterman Pens

Waterman pens are synonymous with luxury writing instruments and it all started with Lewis Edson Waterman. Although it is not 100% proven, the legend goes that in 1883, Lewis worked as an insurance salesman. He had prepared an important sales contract, given the client a fountain pen to sign the document, but to his horror the pen didn’t work and worse still, the pen then leaked ink onto the document. He had to go back to his office to get the contract redrawn, but in the meantime another insurance broker came in and finished the deal.

Lewis was so incensed by this, he decided to try and make his own fountain pens in his brother’s workshop. Although in some circles he has been credited with inventing the first fountain pen, this isn’t true. Fountain pens had been around for up to 100 years before this, the most basic being a bird's feather that was dipped into an ink well. What Waterman invented was a new way for ink to be delivered. The issue had always been the consistency of ink flow regulation. The trick was getting the air to ink exchange balanced, so the ink flowed consistently, but not leak or expel too much ink at one time. What Lewis did was create a fountain pen that used air to induce a steady flow of ink. He achieved this by adding an air hole in the nib and 3 grooves inside the feed mechanism. This was known as a capillary feed and the pen itself was called “The Regular”. This was because he discovered that if air was let into the ink reservoir using capillary pipes, ink would flow out because of gravity, but it wouldn’t flow too much to cause a leak. He applied and was granted a patent in 1884.

The first Waterman pens were sold out the back of a cigar shop. A big selling point was he guaranteed the pens for 5 years. He also advertised in what was then considered a trendy magazine called “The Review of Review”. Orders grew and in 1899 he opened a factory in Montreal. This may come as a surprise as we relate Watermen to France, but this is because there have been 2 life phases for the Waterman company. The original American company spun off a subsidiary called Waterman S.A of Paris and when the American arm collapsed, the French subsidiary took over. This is why if you get early vintage Waterman pens and then later vintages you will see a very distinct change in the style.

Lewis died in 1901, but before he died, Waterman was selling seven out of every 10 fountain pens sold. His nephew Frank D Waterman then took the business over. He was able to increase sales to an amazing 350,000 pens a year and one of his early achievements was to have the Treaty of Versailles signed with a solid gold Waterman pen

For two decades, starting in 1888, Waterman became the dominant pen company in the USA and the world. Due to numerous factors, including complacency, the Depression, new competitors such as Parker and Schaeffer and two world wars, the company dissolved in 1954 with the closure of their last USA plant and the French subsidiary took over. They were able to swap glass cartridges for plastic ones, which solved a lot of sealing issues and they now had an effective cartridge filling fountain pen and sales took off.

Waterman S.A. was purchased in 2001 by Sanford who became a division of Newell Rubbermaid, who also owned the Parker Pen company and when the last British Parker factory closed in 2011, all production transferred to Paris.

Such a rich history for a simple product, if you would like to purchase Waterman pens to commemorate a special date or to give to high achieving staff or clients, we’d love to help you in picking the right one.



The Pens Only Team