The Story of How Waterman Came to Define Fountain Pen Elegance

By Daniel Whitehouse

Waterman Endcaps

The Story of How Waterman Came to Define Fountain Pen Elegance

By Daniel Whitehouse

Waterman has been defining the fountain pen’s elegance and Parisian style since 1883. 

That year, Lewis Waterman invented a capillary feed to improve the existing fountain pen. 

Lewis Edison Waterman's Lifetime Timeline

Prior to that, he was selling insurance. The apocryphal story is that one day when signing the contract on his last job, the fountain pen leaked. Ink spilled all over the paper, ruining what was an important contract for an equally important customer. 

Lewis Waterman apologized and went in search of another contract. Meanwhile, however, the customer found another agent and signed the deal. Lewis Waterman had lost his sale and all to a faulty pen

Nevertheless, he didn’t give in to despair. Waterman went to his brother’s workshop intent on doing something about it.

At that very moment, the history of the modern fountain pen began.

Classic Pen, Timeless Story

There is an ongoing debate on who was the first inventor of a fountain pen.

Experts on Leonardo DaVinci’s work imply that he may have been the first creator of a fountain pen. If this is true, that would date the fountain pen’s origin to the Renaissance period, long before Waterman came along. 

The evidence is in the journal that contains drawings of a cross-section of a pen. That pen had a reservoir but he didn’t patent it.

Officially, Petrache Poenaru (1799-1875) invented the first fountain pen. His pen had a barrel made of swan’s quill that served as an ink reservoir. This became the first patented fountain pen. And it was “a never-ending portable pen” that “recharges itself with ink.”

 Learn More: When was the Fountain Pen Invented: A Brief History


It was in 1883 when Waterman noticed that there was no control of ink flow in the fountain pens he used.

Consequently, Waterman and his brother started experimenting. Eventually, they found the solution. 

Allowing some air into the ink reservoir through capillary pipes stopped the leaking. The ink would then slowly flow out thanks to gravity.

Waterman fountain pen patent, 1884
Image from:

Waterman patented his fountain pen on 12th February 1884 with a 14k nib and was made of hard rubber. 

A year later, along with the firm Asa Shipman, Lewis Waterman founded The Ideal Company. It didn’t last for long and he founded the Waterman Company in 1887, now based in France.

Two years later, Waterman made a modified nib that has come to define Waterman fountain pen. 

The problem was that bubbles would form whenever the ink was finished. Lewis Waterman made the overflow pockets and put them on both sides of the channels in the feed.

The Parts of a Fountain Pen That Make a Perfect Whole

Many, if not all, avid writers would say that a fountain pen is irreplaceable. But what makes Watermans so elegant and outstanding?

The principle is simple. Gravity draws ink from the reservoir through the capillary in the feed to the nib. Manufacturers of fountain pens use Waterman’s principle even today. This allows for equally distributed ink flow, creating neat, sharp lines.

The three main parts of a fountain pen all play an important role in the overall design. Here’s how;

The Nib

Fountain pen nibs make this writing instrument uniquely different from other pens.

The pen nib is a crucial part of bringing the elegance of lettering onto paper. It is the metal part that transfers ink to the paper. 

It consists of two tines - the two sharp prongs - that divide the nib. On the opposite side, there’s a small circular hole at the end of the slit that facilitates ink flow. 

There are many different types of nibs, but generally modern nibs consist of either stainless steel or gold and stainless steel tipped with gold. 

The Feed

The feed is the part next to the nib that connects the nib and the reservoir of a fountain pen. Its function is to supply ink from the reservoir to the nib. 

The shape of feed determines the wetness of ink and the flow of a pen. A feed’s material and surface roughness can significantly influence writing.

As such, two fountain pens with the same nib size can write differently because of their feeds.

Related Reading: How To Write With a Fountain Pen: The 3 Simple Steps


The Ink

Ink can be in the form of the ink cartridge or a fountain pen ink bottle that is then used to fill a fountain pens internal mechanism. The ink cartridge is more convenient but more expensive in the long run.

Anatomy of a Fountain Pen Infographic

Famous People Known to Use Waterman Fountain Pens

Waterman’s business went so well that they sold 7 out of 10 writing instruments on the market by the end of the 19th century.

So, it is not surprising that 1900 was a special year for Lewis Waterman. The Waterman company was awarded the gold medal for excellence at the “Exposition Universelle” in Paris, France.

Beyond award committees, the Waterman company found favor elsewhere.

Over time, notable personalities have used the Waterman fountain range. Renowned author H.P Lovecraft, embraced fountain pens, with his favorite being a black Waterman fountain pen. Given the period he purchased his pen - 1926 - it is possible it was the iconic Waterman Perspective.

After making a purchase, he wrote a letter to his aunt stating, “I did not escape from the emporium till a $6.25 Waterman reposed in my pocket — a modern self-filler corresponding to the ancient $6.00 type which I bought in 1906.” According to one of Lovecraft’s biographers;

“He used one pen, chosen with the most painstaking care, until it wore out…It had to have just the right kind of ink flow, molding itself to his hand in such a way…It also had to be a black Waterman; a pen of another color or make would have been unthinkable.” 

There is also evidence that Einstein used a Waterman Taper-cap Fountain Pen when formulating the Theory of Relativity. 

For that reason, this famous Waterman fountain pen can be found on display at the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden.

Leiden Museum Boerhaave Einstein Pen
Image from: Wikimedia

Steven King wrote “ Dreamcatcher” with the Waterman Hemisphere which boasts a highly luxurious design. The Waterman Hemisphere line exudes the style, elegance, and polish that denotes expert craftsmanship.

When it comes to the elegance of writing Steven King said:

“This book was written with the world’s finest word processor, a Waterman cartridge fountain pen.”

Experience the Elegance of Waterman With Dayspring Pens 

At Dayspring Pens, we understand the importance and significance of using a pen that works as well as you do. 

That's why we offer you a wide range of elegant, professional pens to suit any need or style. 

Waterman fountain pens are perfect whether for personal use or as a gift. Their design makes them practical, efficient, and capable of rising to any occasion. 

Browse our collection of Waterman pens, select the best option you find, and make your order. Then wait to be impressed.

If you need assistance in placing your personalized order, contact us today. We are eager to answer any questions you might have.


Daniel Whitehouse is the President and CEO of Dayspring Pens. He uses his expertise with premium writing utensils to create exceptional, intentional products and craft easy-to-understand articles that help both new and experienced users learn more about their writing tools. He lives in Virginia where he and his wife are raising their four children.

To learn more about him and his insights about custom engraved gift pens, follow Daniel on LinkedIn.

1 Comment

After reading the article above I realised I have a Waterman pen which appears to be exactly the same as the one in the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden which is in the visual above. I’d appreciate your comments please. Just for your reference I am in the UK. Thanks

Jan McDonald

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.