When one thinks of beautiful luxury pens, you might envision the CEO of a large corporate company who adorns his massive desk with a small, yet expensive, collection of pens. However, America’s own Presidents also enjoy the wonderful feeling of using Parker fountains pens and Waterman pens. For as long as fountain pens have been around, the Presidents have been using them to sign some of the most important pieces of our legislative history.
No one knows exactly when or who started it, but there is an obscure tradition in Washington that only the most passionate fans of luxury pens probably know about. When the President signs an important bill, he uses not one, but dozens of pens to sign it. The tradition dates as far back as Franklin Roosevelt, but as already mentioned, it could have started long before him. So what is the logic behind this little quirk? Well, after the signing of an important document, any pen used becomes an artifact. Therefore, the more pens used, the more historical relics you now have attached to that piece of legislation. However, not all the pens are locked up in a museum somewhere. Most of them are given away as gifts. Who gets these wonderful gifts? Usually people who were involved with the creation of the bill.
After the signing, the luxury pens are usually engraved by the White House. When Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he used more than 75 pens! There is actually video footage of this remarkable feat, but after awhile, it becomes quite difficult to keep track of all those luxury pens! One of the first people to receive a pen as a gift was, of course, Martin Luther King Jr. Senators Hubert Humphrey and Everett McKinley Dirksen also received pens for helping to pass the bill through Congress. In 1996, President Bill Clinton used four pens to sign the Line-Item Veto bill, which allowed the President to veto individual sections of a bill rather than the entire bill itself. The lucky recipients of those pens included Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.
A more recent example of this tradition was last March when President Obama signed the $938 billion healthcare bill with 22 pens. But the remaining question is, how is it possible to use so many pens, especially if the document only needs his signature once? President Kennedy had this process down to a science. If he needed more letters so he could use more pens, he would waste some ink by writing his middle name and adding a flourish under his entire name. In 2009, President Obama was also asked this questions and he told reporters that he was practicing to write his name very slowly and carefully.
Not all Presidents follow this tradition though. President George W. Bush only liked to use one pen and then offered unused pens as souvenirs. It’s amazing to think that such a simple thing as luxury pens could have such an important effect on our country’s history.