This Is Why Presidents Use So Many Pens When Signing Documents

Being president of the United States is an important job. From executive orders to new legislation, signing documents is among the many important tasks presidents perform. When bills come across the president's desk, there's often a signing ceremony at which time the POTUS adds a signature. As many may have noticed, though, presidents often use more than one pen in that process, as CNN points out — and sometimes way, way more than one pen. In 1964, in fact, President Lyndon Johnson employed no fewer than 75 pens to sign the landmark Civil Rights Act, based on The New York Times reporting from the period. 

Why so many writing implements, though? Presidents using multiple pens to sign a document is nothing more than tradition, and there's no rule anywhere that says that's how a presidential signing ceremony should work. It's also unclear exactly when the tradition got started.

According to Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library director Mark Lawrence, the reason why it still happens is that by the time a document reaches the president's desk, there have been many people involved in making that happen. On that note, "I think that presidents want to share credit with others who've contributed to the issues in play," Lawrence said.

Historians are not sure which president started this tradition

Though no one's 100% sure, the multi-pen presidential signing ceremony may have started with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, according to ThoughtCo.. Others say it became common practice during the administration of FDR's successor, Harry Truman, CNET reports. The practice was certainly popularized in the John F. Kennedy administration, and that of his successor, Lyndon Johnson.

In a 2010 video posted on YouTube, then-White House staff secretary Lisa Brown said: "The practice is that the president uses a number of pens and then gives the pens to people who worked particularly hard on a bill, who sponsored the bill, who really fought to get it done, or to whom the bill means a great deal." That same year, Barack Obama used 22 pens to sign the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Keep in mind, presidents don't sign a bill multiple times, they sometimes use many pens to sign their name just once, using a different pen for each stroke. When Obama signed the ACA, according to an official White House transcript, he joked, "I've got to use every pen, so it's going to take a really long time. I didn't practice."

The pens are given away as souvenirs

Another thing most anyone has noticed about a presidential signing ceremony is that the president tends to be surrounded by other politicians, congressional leaders, legislators, and advocates, all involved in the lawmaking process, or who worked for the bill's passage. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, was on hand in 1964 when LBJ signed the Civil Rights Act.

When the president signs a bill with more than one pen, the writing utensils are then given away as souvenirs. Presidential pens are also sometimes given away outside signing ceremonies, according to Lori Ferber of Presidential Collectibles. According to, presidents don't use just any kind of pen when they do their signing, either — except for President Donald Trump, who eventually resorted to using a simple Sharpie to showcase his distinctive dark and angular signature.

Otherwise, presidents most often sign documents with a pen manufactured by A. T. Cross, an American writing implement manufacturer founded in 1846. Also, the multi-pen signing ceremony is not for all presidents. President George H.W. Bush never used more than one.