Albeit the fact that most people don’t realize how many pens a president uses everyday, the president has been known to use up to 20 pens to sign anything from executive orders to laws and policies. These pens are considered giveaways, or souvenirs, for anyone who played a role in establishing such acts and regulations and attend the signing of such orders. These pens essentially become “artifacts of history” and people who receive the pens are part of an historical moment.
The president who began the tradition of using several pens during a bill signing dates back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served as president from 1933 through 1945. Yet not all presidents follow this tradition– George W. Bush was known to use only one pen to sign bills into law. President Lyndon B. Johnson holds the record of using 72 pens (!) upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Most recently, President Biden used at least 47 pens to sign a number of executive orders by the end of January 2021. President Biden already signed numerous executive orders, including rejoining the Paris Agreement to deal with climate change, strengthening Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act, Preventing and Combating Discrimination, and many others.
Next time you tune in to watch executive signings on TV, keep an eye out for the number of different pens used, you’ll be amazed at the large box presented to the President each day in the Oval Office. Each executive order comes in its own special booklet or on specialty paper with its own pen. These pens have been known to get distributed to everyone from Lily Ledbetter to Martin Luther King Jr., and even to special buildings (think Smithsonian) in the president’s name as artifacts. Although it can be construed as dangerous in these times of COVID-19, the pens are still handed out to preserve tradition to those who attend an executive order signing.
“Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton all used Cross Townsend pens, although Obama later switched to the Century II,” according to a CNN article. The prices of these pens can vary dramatically.
Keep in mind that the White House has a special partnership with Cross pens, and these pens have the White House logo on them. The pens are designed to be very smooth, quick and comfortable. This is useful since presidents do not have a ton of time to sign orders, not to mention the number of orders overall that come across the president’s desk each day.
So the next time you watch the news on TV, if they show an executive order signing in the Oval Office, keep your eyes on the desk and watch the president reach for pens from a wooden box. Keep your eyes peeled on how quickly the pens disappear as the president hands them off to a nearby assistant who will then distribute the pens to nearby news correspondents and observers. Have fun watching!