In this article, we’re going to take a look at the pens that U.S. Presidents have traditionally used. The reason we’re going to do this is because, lately, there’s been a surprising amount of drama around recent Presidents’ choice of pen.
In the end, we’ll list out the top pens used by presidents in the last 80 years.
The Story of President Trump’s Pen Choice
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Most of us were probably not aware of just how dramatic the President’s choice of pen could be, but when Donald Trump broke with tradition, setting aside the Cross Century II for a Sharpie permanent marker, well… every single luxury pen enthusiast in America experienced a small emotional explosion.
The President’s choice of pen is, at least in part, a big symbolic gesture. It suggests something about the way in which the President is going to govern, the kinds of bills he’s going to sign off on.
So, you can imagine that a President trading a luxury pen for a throwaway permanent marker was simply unacceptable.
What were Trump’s reasons for switching from Cross to Sharpie?
The New York Times reported the President’s response,
“‘I was signing documents with a very expensive pen and it didn’t write well... It was a horrible pen, and it was extremely expensive. A government-ordered pen.’ He said that he had pulled out a standard Sharpie pen and concluded that it not only ‘writes much better,’ but also ‘costs almost nothing.’”
Strangely enough, even pen enthusiasts who were at odds with the previous President’s policies found themselves agreeing on this point: The A.T. Cross company isn’t always considered the gold standard, despite offering high-quality, affordable luxury pens. Presidents of other countries have turned to even higher quality pens; Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, for example, writes with the Montblanc Friedrich Schiller.
Where these pen enthusiasts were scandalized, however, was with the turn to Sharpie.
President Trump even went so far as to contact Sharpie, owned by Newell Rubbermade, to manufacture a marker specifically for him, asking them to “make it look rich.”
It was pretty dramatic for pen lovers, but was it really so out-of-step with past Presidents?
Is Cross Really the Presidential Pen?
Before Clinton, the pen-of-choice for Presidents seems to have been pretty diverse.
President Roosevelt's Pen: Waterman
Franklin D. Roosevelt seems to have preferred a Waterman fountain pen. His successors, Truman and Eisenhower, preferred Parker fountain pens (so does the Queen of England, by the way). Truman, one of the few left-handed Presidents of the United States, is rumored to have asked Parker develop a pen specifically for him so that his signature wouldn't smudge.
John F. Kennedy's Pen and Presidents Thereafter: The Parker 45
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John F. Kennedy seems to have used a number of different pens: the Parker “45,” an Esterbrook fountain pen, and a Montblanc Meisterstück No. 149.
It is rumored that Lyndon B. Johnson preferred the Parker Eversharp pens, but he used an Esterbrook fountain pen to sign the Civil Rights Act.
Nixon, Ford, and Carter all also seem to have used the Parker Eversharp with their signatures engraved on the barrel to sign bills.
Ronald Reagan's Pen: Cross Classic Century
CNN reports that “Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were also known to use Cross pens, however, the official Cross-White House program began under Clinton.” The change-up happened after a bit of a debacle when Clinton used a knock-off Montblanc pen to sign a bill and gave them out as souvenirs. Montblanc seem to have been in the running for the next presidential pens, but Cross seems to have won out with Clinton.
Clinton, Bush, and Obama Tap The Townsend for the President's Pen
Thus, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all used the Cross Townsend Felt-Tip Rollerball pen. Obama, however, later opted for the Cross Century II.
Joe Biden's Pen
After Trump’s turn to the Sharpie, President Joe Biden has returned to Obama's preferred Cross Century II Rollerball.
All-in-all, there’s a lot of other “presidential pens,” specifically from Parker. But Cross has generally been the preferred presidential pen since at least Reagan.
What’s the Top Presidential Pen?
Here’s the top pen that Presidents seem to have preferred since Roosevelt:
- Parker Eversharp pen (discontinued in 1968, similar in design to the Parker IM)
- Cross Townsend rollerball pen
- Parker 45 fountain pen (discontinued in 2007, similar to the Parker 51).
- Cross Century II rollerball pen
- Esterbrook fountain pen
- The Cross Classic Century ballpoint pen
- A nondescript Waterman fountain pen
That’s our working list of presidential pens. What do you think?
This has been our examination of presidential pens; we hope it’s contributed to understanding a bit more about the symbolism and the stories behind these luxury writing instruments.
For more on the best luxury pens, be sure to check out our list of best-sellers.
But now we want to hear from you! What do you think would make a good pen for a President? Let us know in the comments.