Have you ever noticed in the White House bill-signing tradition, pens play an integral role – perhaps second only to the fanfare of the occasion itself?
In January 2009, President Barach Obama used seven pens to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Actinto law. On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – otherwise known as Obamacare – into law. And signed, and signed and signed. All told, he is reported to have used 22 different pens to sign the historic $938 billion health care bill into law.
Watching the hoopla from their living room TVs, Americans may have wondered why the president is using an increasing number of pens to sign bills these days. Is this a sign of a worrisome case of obsessive compulsive disorder in our nation’s leader? Or does the government just buy cheap pens? Or did the president pick up an assortment of promo pens from various businesses while running errands and decide to give them airtime exposure?
None of the above is true. President Obama was merely following a long-held tradition of the White House. The practice of using multiple pens is said to date back to the days of Franklin Roosevelt. The logic goes like this: The more pens a president uses to sign a historic piece of legislation, the more “souvenirs” he will have to give to those who helped move the historic bill into law.
Once all the pens are used to sign the legislation, the White House gets the pens engraved to be given as a sort-of keepsake to supporters of the law – or some of the pens may end up in museums and display cases in prominent locations.
Despite Obama’s apparent willingness to adhere to the pen-signing practice, the tradition was challenged during his own presidency. On January 2, 2013, President Obama signed Congress’ new fiscal cliff bill into law while on vacation in Hawaii using an autopen.
The auto pen is an electronic device that uses a matrix of the original signature to electronically affix a signature. According to Mashable, the pens works by mimicking a signer’s pen strokes and storing them for when the user is not present.
The president’s use of the auto pen to sign the fiscal cliff legislation was reportedly the third time he used such a device. Earlier uses of the device came in May 2011, when he signed a Patriot Act extension while attending the G8 Summit in France and in November 2011, when he signed an emergency spending bill while in Indonesia.
Although using the auto pen to sign legislation has met with some controversy, the administration cites a 2005 decision by the Justice Department that gives the commander-in-chief the ability to direct a subordinate to affix his signature to a bill he has approved.
In today’s electronic world where e-signing is becoming increasingly popular, has the long-held tradition of using multiple pens become a penultimate stop in history?
Charlotte Angle is a writer for HALO Branded Solutions, a leading Bic Custom Pens products company. When she's not working, she loves to travel and blog, so her tablet is her best friend.