Four years ago, when President Obama signed the new healthcare law into effect in the US, we told you about the 22 Cross pens he used to do the job.
Now, his pens are in the news again because of a comment he made about his intentions to veto certain controversial legislation during his second term.
He told National Public Radio in December, “I haven’t used the veto pen very often since I’ve been in office. Now, I suspect, there are going to be some times where I’ve got to pull that pen out.”
And true to his word, President Obama pulled out the veto pen recently on the Keystone XL pipeline bill, bringing attention back to the black Cross pens that he uses for official moments.
(Check out CNN’s visit to Cross Pens in Rhode Island.)
We decided to follow up by asking the folks at Cross how exactly their pens ended up in the White House in the first place. They were kind enough to respond.
According to Andy Boss with Cross Pens, it began in the 1970s.
The company’s CEO began to “seed” Cross writers into the White House by presenting a 12kt gold pen and pencil desk set to President Gerald Ford.
Then, a few years and two administrations later, President Ronald Reagan invited several US CEOs to the White House to hear about his plans for the economy. The Cross CEO took along another pen and pencil set.
Subsequent administrations used Cross pens off and on.
But then, President George W. Bush introduced them into the White House in a big way. He used a Cross Century Classic Black set for his inauguration and a marbled blue lacquer with gold appointments for his standard pen, according to Boss.
(Bush also was known to use customized Sharpies.)
Boss said President Bush ended up with a fairly large collection of Cross Townsends and has a display of them, along with the documents he used them to sign, in his presidential library in Texas.
President Obama continued the tradition.
“When President Obama came to office, we used a 10k Classic Century with the Inaugural seal and his signature on the pen as his ‘giveaway’ and then the black-lacquer/rhodium Townsend as his personal pen. The White House purchased a sizable number of Townsend pens before eventually switching over to the Century II SP that they currently use for signings and giveaways.”
(By the way, the presidential pens are rollerballs, not fountain pens, which is probably good thing, since Obama is left-handed.)
President Obama used 22 pens to sign Affordable Care Act in 2010, the most pens he had used for a signature to that point. That wasn’t the most pens ever, though, because President Clinton used 40 when he signed the Taxpayer Relief Act in 1997, according to the White House.
Of course, Cross certainly isn’t the only pen that was ever used in the White House.
The tradition of signing documents with multiple presidential pens and giving them away to participants reportedly began with President Harry Truman, who used Reynold’s Rockets that were printed with “I Swiped this from Harry S. Truman,” according to an article by the late John Loring in Pen World magazine.
Loring reported that presidents from Truman up through Reagan used a variety of presidential pens, including Sheaffer, Esterbrook and Parker. Parker also has the Royal Warrant for pens in the UK.
In 1987, the LA Times reported that President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed a nuclear-arms agreement using specially made Parker pens, which prompted the Parker company to take out full page newspaper ads bragging about it. That did not endear them to rivals Cross and Sheaffer, according to the paper.
But Cross seems to have won out in the end, with dozens and dozens of its presidential pens currently at work in the White House and likely to see more use as President Obama’s term continues.
Want to get your hands on one? Be careful.
There are plenty of supposed President Obama Cross pens to found online. However, remember that any pen made to be used by Obama himself will have his signature and the presidential seal reversed so that it would be visible to a left-hander while writing.