Local BBC Sites

Page last updated at 14:47 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

History of the World - Birmingham's historic steel pens

Steel pen and calligraphy

Cannot play media. Sorry, this media is not available in your territory.

Historian Carl Chinn explains how a tiny object made in Birmingham - the steel nibbed pen - changed the whole world.

Mass production of steel pens began in the 1820s and within decades Midlands workers were turning out more than 18,000 every day.

Throughout the Victorian period the industry boomed with 100 factories involved in production, mainly in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter.

Ninety percent of the pen factory workers were women.

At its peak in the 1860s the city's pen industry was producing 98,000 pens each week.

Even author Charles Dickens was said to have written with a Birmingham made nib.

No longer was writing the preserve of the rich and the few. The pen became an important symbol of democracy.

Joseph Gillott's Victoria Works factory was one of the biggest producers and his pens were used in 10,000 American classrooms.

But by the 1960s the steel pen industry in Birmingham was declining with the rise in popularity of a new pen - the biro.

BBC Inside Out looked back at the history of the pen making industry.

BBC A History of the World

BBC Inside Out

Story Tools

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific