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Cross: Ingenuity In Action

Cross is undoubtedly a front runner in terms of technical innovation within the world of fine writing. In 1879, it launched the Stylographic pen, a technological ancestor of the ballpoint pen, some 10 years before fountain pens hit the commercial scene. This was at a time when people were still using quills or dip pens, so A. T. Cross was truly thinking outside the box. The Stylographic was reliable and refillable, and perfect for technical drawing – in fact it was often called an ‘ink pencil’. Stylographic pens from various manufacturers continue to be used today, as they can have very fine points (which use the capillary action of a fountain pen) and were very popular for use with carbon paper throughout the 20th century.

Another Cross invention was the propel-repel mechanical pencil, a forerunner to today’s technical pencils. Also launched in 1879, the user was able to both advance and retract the lead, as well as replacing it. In 1885, Cross improved the mechanism, making the old lead easier to expel. This mechanical pencil was one of Cross’s great historical successes.

Cross held back on releasing its first fountain pens and ballpoints when the vogue first came in for both, preferring to tinker with its designs until it was happy it could outplay others on the market. When the company did release its first ballpoint, the Century in 1954, it had a propel-repel twist action that echoed their famous mechanical pencil design. The range is still available today.

When it came to digital innovation however, Cross was a forerunner, launching the CrossPad in collaboration with IBM in 1997 (13 years before the launch of the iPad). It featured a paper pad sitting on top of a tablet, which captured the handwriting of the user digitally using a radio transmitter. This genius invention was the ideal mixture of familiar and futuristic, allowing a hard copy to be instantly available (this was when hard copies still needed to be filed) but allowing for a digital version, too. It was discontinued in 2004 when laptops became more widely used for business but is a great example of the harmony that can exist between the analogue and digital worlds when it comes to writing.