Insurance man designs his own fountain pen after screwing up a policy


Lewis Edson Waterman was born in Decatur, Otsego County, New York in 1837. His upbringing was neglected and he rarely went to school. At 16 he moved to Illinois with his parents. He was entrepreneurial.

For four years he worked as a carpenter during the summer months and in the winter, after much self-study, as a teacher. His health no longer allowed manual labor so he provided for himself by teaching, selling books, and teaching shorthand.

By selling books he discovered his talent as a salesman. In 1862 - in the middle of the Civil War - he switched to selling life insurance. After two years, he became his airline's chief agent for Boston.

His health deteriorated again and from 1870 he had to give up his agency. For thirteen years he led an itinerant life. In 1883 he reappeared as an insurance agent in New York.

The competition was fierce. All documents had to be signed in ink. After writing an extensive policy one day with one of the then common fountain pens, he had an appointment with his customer for the all-important signing.

His pen failed him, however, showing not a signature, but a large ink stain that destroyed the policy. Although he quickly manufactured a duplicate, a rival broker got ahead of him.

According to another version, the customer was superstitious and therefore turned to another agent. Be that as it may, after this incident, Water Man acknowledged the need for a reliable fountain pen. He set to work with his innate technical talent.

He knew that the main problem was ink flow and believed that the principle of capillary attraction was the solution. You can also observe this phenomenon in a glass of water.

If you put a very thin straw in it, the water in the straw will be higher than the water in the glass itself. The liquid has crept up, as it were. This effect is used with a fountain pen.

The glass of water is comparable to the ink reservoir (the filling), the thin straw with the ink channel.

Using only a pocket knife, a saw and a file, he managed to create a feed that not only had grooves to direct the ink to the tip of the pen, but also allowed air to enter the control ink flow.

After numerous experiments, he fabricated the desired feed, which consisted of a shallow square groove in which three narrower grooves were made. This now renowned technique made fountain pens really practical and in 1883 Waterman applied for a patent.

The patent was granted on February 12, 1884, when he was 47. Since then, Waterman has been regarded as the inventor of the modern fountain pen.

The success of his invention led to him leaving insurance and focusing on manufacturing and selling fountain pens. He founded the one-man business LE Waterman Company and settled at a kitchen table in the back of a cigar shop on Fulton Street, New York.

The first year he produced about 200 handmade pens. His sign read, "Waterman's ideal fountain pen, five-year warranty." He gave each buyer a written warranty against any defect.

In the second year, production increased to 500 pieces, all hand-made from hard rubber. Aquarius had no desire to grow his business in such a way that he could not personally run it. He considered each customer a friend and kept a list of their names and addresses.

But the profit was not enough to earn a decent living. In the third year, a publicist suggested that he advertise a quarter of a page in a well-known magazine with a circulation of 300,000 copies.

Waterman had no money and the agent advanced him $ 62.5. If the ad was unsuccessful, Waterman would not have to pay the amount. But it had an effect: orders came in from all over the country.

The phenomenal growth allowed the LE Waterman Company to move into a six-story building on Broadway 153, from where he managed sales, administration, storage and repair work.

He built a factory for the rubber parts in Seymour Connecticut and a second one for gold pens in New York City. In 1901, the year Aquarius died, they were making a thousand pens a day. Its principle of three-slot feed ink regulation remained unchanged for fifty years.

The fountain pen had its golden years between 1920 and 1940, the years when Aquarius was spread all over the world. After the Second World War, both the American and the English branch were defunct.

Curiously, the brand name lived on in France, where a certain Jules Fagard had manufactured the Waterman pens under license from 1926. A new chapter started when the company came into the hands of Fagard's granddaughter Francine Gomez in 1969.

She bought back the worldwide rights to the brand and by 1975 had a profit of 2.6 million dollars. The Frenchwoman made Waterman a respectable brand again. In 1983 she celebrated the centenary, of course with a new type of pen, the Man 100.

In 1987 Gillette took over Waterman.