Why does the President have so many pens? Joe Biden used different pens when signing executive orders - here's why

The tradition of using different pens to sign documents could go back almost 100 years – here’s what we know about it

President Joe Biden’s signing hand has certainly been busy the last few days.

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Within hours of taking the presidential oath, like the 45 presidents before him, he had already begun to restore Obama’s legacy, such as rejoining the Paris Climate Accord and signing a further 14 executive orders.

President Joe Biden signs an executive order in the State Dining Room of the White House on 21 January (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

But many observers will have noticed that before Biden got to signing his orders, laid out before him was a series of pens. Surely spares in case the pen he's using embarrassingly ran dry mid-scribble?

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But it turned out that Biden would get through the whole box, turning to a new writing implement with each new signature.

Why is that, and why does the President have so many pens?

In 2010, Barack Obama had to use 22 pens to sign through Obamacare (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Why does the President have so many pens?

It’s all to do with tradition.

Nobody is quite sure when it started, but at least since the time of President Kennedy in the early 60s, Commanders in Chief have regularly made use of multiple pens when signing important documents like executive orders and other legislative acts.

A video posted in 2010 by The Obama White House shows then Press Secretary Lisa Brown explaining the tradition, saying it may go back even further, maybe to the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.

Essentially, the pens serve as historical souvenirs.

As Brown explains in the video: “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.”

How many pens does the President have?

The exact number of pens used will of course depend on the number of documents to be signed, so there is no set amount.

However, a famous example of an excessive amount of pens came in 2010, when Barack Obama had to use 22 of them to sign the documents required to legislate Obamacare.

"I've got to use every pen,” the President joked, “so it's going to take a really long time.” According to CNET, Obama had to use multiple pens for each of the letters in his name.

It's thought that nearly twice as many pens were used by President Bill Clinton to sign the Taxpayer Relief Act in 1997 – this could be the record.