Writing through the ages
2000BC: Chinese write with brushes made from rat hair. Ink is a mixture of soot and lamp oil mixed with gelatin.
1200 BC: Egyptians develop inks with natural dyes and colors derived from berries, plants, and minerals. "Pens" are thin reeds. Six hundred years later, Egyptians develop papyrus (paper).
400 AD: A stable form of ink is developed in many cultures. It's a mixture of iron salts, oak galls, and gum arabic (a tree resin). This basic formula is in use for centuries.
700 AD: Romans develop the quill pen, made from a wing feather of a large bird. Quills are the primary writing tool for the next 1,000 years.
1548: In his writing manual, Spanish calligrapher Juan de Yciar makes the earliest known reference to brass pens.
1700: Nicholas Bion (chief instrument maker to France's Louis XIV) makes the first illustration of a fountain pen. Five of his pens survive to this day.
1803: English engineer Bryan Donkin patents the first steel pen point.
1809: Peregrin Williamson receives the first American patent for a pen with an ink supply in the barrel - a fountain pen. His design has many faults, though.
1830: British steelmakers William Joseph Gillot, William Mitchell, and James Stephen Perry develop ways to mass-produce steel pen nibs. As steel quality improves over the next two decades, quill-pen use declines.
1884: After losing an important client because of a pen failure, New York City insurance salesman Lewis Edson Waterman invents the first practical fountain pen.
1888: John Loud of Weymouth, Mass., patents the first ballpoint pen. It is never mass-produced, and the patent expires.
1900s: Four fountain penmakers now dominate the market: Parker, Sheaffer, Wahl-Eversharp, and Waterman.
1912: The Sheaffer Pen Company introduces the lever filler to its fountain pens. Up to that time, fountain pens were refilled using an eyedropper.
1935: Waterman introduces the ink cartridge, then a small glass tube with a cork stopper.
1938: Hungarian journalist Ladislo Biro and his brother Georg invent the first practical ballpoint pen. It uses a quick-drying oil-based printers' ink. The British government later licenses the patent to make pens for Royal Air Force pilots. Ballpoints don't leak at high altitude, as fountain pens did.
1945: Chicago businessman Milton Reynolds redesigns the Biros' pen and introduces it in the United States, where the Biros' do not have a patent. Rival penmakers Eversharp, who have licensed the Biros' patent, introduce their product soon after. The new pens create a sensation and sell quickly.
1950: French Baron Marcel Bich drops the "h" from his surname to start Bic. His company perfects mass-production of ballpoint pens. (Today, Bic is the world's dominant pen company, selling 21 million pens a day - 7.6 billion a year.)
1951: Despite initial public enthusiasm, ballpoint pens prove to be expensive and unreliable. Sales plummet. Fountain pens make a comeback.
1954: Parker Pens introduces the Jotter. The new, more reliable ballpoint writes five times longer than its most popular competitor. Ballpoint sales rise again.
1962: Yokio Horie of the Tokyo Stationery Company is credited with inventing the fiber-tip (or felt-tip) pen.
1966: Fisher develops the Space Pen for NASA. It has a pressurized ink cartridge that can write in zero gravity.
1979: Gillette introduces a pen with ink that can be erased for up to 10 hours before it becomes permanent. Rubber-cement ink is the secret.
1984: Sakura of Japan introduces the gel-ink pen, a cross between a ballpoint and a marker filled with gel-based ink.
1996: Pentel of America introduces "Milkys" gel-ink pens. Gel pens become wildly popular with children in the US.