Why Do American Presidents Use So Many Pens To Sign?


As President Joe Biden sat to sign some of the most important executive orders right after his inauguration, some of you who have an eye for details(or pens), may have noticed Mr. President using pens neatly stacked in a wooden box, and using all of them one by one to sign the bills. And that may raise a question. Why so many pens? Isn’t one enough?


As strange as it might seem, but it’s a tradition that dates back decades. A tradition that is associated with signing ceremonies. From birth of The United States Of America, signing ceremonies to this day has been of great significance. A formal gathering of politicians, law makers, or related audience, where the president signs an important document. The document can be an international agreement, an executive order, or a certain piece of legislation.


But it’s not just the signing that’s remarkable, but also what and how its signed. As per tradition, multiple pens are used for signing a single piece of document. The pens are then distributed among the prestigious members of politics, dignitaries and those related to the task issued. Why? Because…

Why Do American Presidents Use So Many Pens To Sign?


''I think the presidents want to share credit with others who’ve contributed to the issues in play.'' explains Mark Lawrence, director of Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library. Or as the Time magazine writes, '' The more pens a president uses, the more thank you gifts he offer to those who helped create that piece of history.''


In order to make sure all of the pens are used, the sign had to be broken in parts, writing a letter or part of a letter at a time. Presidents had to master signing their name with several pens while still making their signature look as natural as possible.


No one can exactly pinpoint when this tradition has started, although many believe it was President Truman who first popularized signing of legislation with several pens and distributing them. But back then signing ceremonies where not really publicized.


This quirky tradition first caught the eye of the audience in 1964. When President Johnson Lyndon signed the Civil Rights Act. He used a whooping 75 pens to sign the legislation - most number of pens used by any president up to date. One of those historical pens was received by Martin Luther King Jr.


This historic ritual has followed modern times as well. President Bill Clinton used 4 pens to use the Line-Item Veto. The pens were then given to Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W Bush, reports the Time magazine.


President Barack Obama used 7 pens to sign the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. He also signed Affordable Care Act in 2010, using 22 pens. President Donald Trump too has used many pens and have distributed them as souvenirs on his very first day at office.


Now we might be intrigued to know what kind of pens are being used for such a historical act?


A.T. Cross have been a long-term manufacturer of engraved presidential pens. Dating to 1970's, former presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W Bush, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, all used Cross Pens.


They have been preferred because of their outstanding metal build, black lacquer color, and gold-plated tip. Every pen is engraved by the presidents name - who did the signing and presidential seal. Each pen costs over $100. In rare cases few of these pens ended up in sale over the internet, for about $500.


President Donald trump too has used A.T. Cross pens initially, but much preferred a Sharpie instead. Business Insider reports, he reached out to the people at Sharpie and said, ''Do me a favor, can you make the pen black? Can you make it look rich?''. They not only did that but also engraved his signature on it.


Joe Biden though, like most other former presidents followed suit in using A.T. Cross Pens, specifically Cross Century II Rollerball pen, and probably will use the same, to sign many other documents in future.

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Author: Mahiya Mannan

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