What Pen Does the President Use?: From Roosevelt to Biden

By Samantha Di Nardo

White house where the president uses 75 pens to sign bills

What Pen Does the President Use?: From Roosevelt to Biden

By Samantha Di Nardo

In this article, we’ll explore the traditional choices of the presidential pen used by U.S. Presidents. The reason we’re going to do this is because, lately, there’s been a surprising amount of drama around a recent President's 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

Trump and Pence with signed bill
Courtesy of Unsplash

Initially, most of us were probably not aware of just how dramatic the President’s choice of pen could be. However, 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.

Trump’s use of the Sharpie came to public attention when he was suspected of changing the projected trajectory of Hurricane Dorian on a NOAA briefing map, resulting in the Twitter trend #sharpiegate

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.

On an international front, presidents of other countries have turned to even higher quality pens. For instance, Malcolm Turnbull of Australia, 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 Rubbermaid, 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?

The institution of Cross pens as the “presidential pen” is actually pretty recent. 

Infographic of Presidential Pens through History

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.

Discover More: The Story of How Waterman Came to Define Fountain Pen Elegance

John F. Kennedy's Pen and Presidents Thereafter: The Parker 45

John F Kennedy standing a speech podium
Courtesy of Unsplash

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.

 Further Reading: The 6 Best Parker Pens: #1 Is Super Affordable!

Ronald Reagan's Pen: Cross Classic Century

Ronald Reagan was the first President to use a Cross pen, the Classic Century ballpoint in black and gold, which was continued by George H.W. Bush.

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.

Read More: Fountain Pen Review: The Cross Century II

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?

Cross Century II Fountain Pen Signing Document

Here’s the top pen that Presidents seem to have preferred since Roosevelt:

  1. Parker Eversharp pen (discontinued in 1968, similar in design to the Parker IM)
  2. Cross Townsend rollerball pen
  3. Parker 45 fountain pen (discontinued in 2007, similar to the Parker 51). 
  4. Cross Century II rollerball pen
  5. Esterbrook fountain pen
  6. The Cross Classic Century ballpoint pen
  7. 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. Or find out which are the best cheap engraved pens for gifts and more.

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.

Featured image Courtesy of Unsplash

Sam Di Nardo

Sam Di Nardo is an author for Dayspring Pens, where she has honed her expertise in ballpoint, rollerball, gel and fountain pens since joining the team in 2018.

From her initial role as an Engraver to becoming the Production Manager, Sam's journey has been marked by her passion for the history, manufacturing, and the unique value of gifted writing instruments.

A graduate of Regent University with a degree in English Literature and a special interest in Old Norse literature, dive deeper into Sam's world and discover why she's your trusted guide in the realm of gift pens.

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There was a photo of LBJ I recall seeing, he was at work holding a Sheaffer snorkel pen with the conical (Triumph?) nib.

Arthur Greenberg

Biden generally writes with a crayon!

Robert Murie

If you look at the images of the pens that JFK and LBJ used for signing that were Esterbrook, they’re not fountain pens. They’re Dip-Less with the standard government issued 2668 firm medium nibs.

Paul Herman

“Truman one of the few left handed American Presidents”. Really? There have been at least seven lefties in the modern era alone. Obama, Clinton, George H W Bush, Reagan, Ford, Truman, Herbert Hoover. In fact since WW2 lefties predominate.

John Davison

I Really would just be happy if I were to meet Pres. Kennedy. Why ? Well, Let’s just say that he was a well noticed man and a handful of (Question’s, Answer’s.) P.S. I know that it’s “2023” know, but yes! I have been using “Typewriter’s”/ Using fountain pens’ probabley since “2020” If I could I would write with “Paper/FountainPens”. P.S.Sincerely your; Mathias R. Flores

Mathias Flores

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