This photo shows President Biden at his desk in the Oval Office. He is holding a pen and signing an executive order. On his right is a pile of further executive orders. In front is a box with approximately 12 pens, apparently one for each order.

Biden signing executive orders
Source: BBC News

Why does the President need so many pens? It gives a slightly comical impression.

2 Answers 2


It's a tradition and the pens are given out later as souvenirs. From this TIME article:

The rationale is fairly simple. The pen used to sign historic legislation itself becomes a historical artifact. The more pens a President uses, the more thank-you gifts he can offer to those who helped create that piece of history. The White House often engraves the pens, which are then given as keepsakes to key proponents or supporters of the newly signed legislation.

During President Trump's first signing ceremony, he used multiple pens too, later given to the Members of Congress who had attended.


(The pens are placed on Trump's right.)

Source: https://us.cnn.com/videos/politics/2017/01/20/donald-trump-first-law-pens-orig-mg.cnn/video/playlists/atv-road-to-the-white-house-automated/

President Obama famously used 22 pens to sign Obamacare into law. The White House released a video then explaining the tradition.

Obama used 22 pens to sign health care reform legislation into law in March of 2010. He used a different pen for each letter or half letter of his name. "This is gonna take a little while," Obama said.


Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/obama-legacy/obamacare.html

Recently, Speaker Nancy Pelosi also used multiple pens when signing the articles of impeachment during Trump's first impeachment.


Source: AP Photo

This tradition dates back at least to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

  • 7
    They also sell those pens in the gift shop (though probably not the ones used to sign bills). I was given an Obama-era White House pen as a gift a while ago; it's unlikely that Obama actually used that particular pen for anything, but it's supposedly the same kind of pen. (I'd assume it'd come with some kind of certificate if it was actually used for something historic.) Jan 21, 2021 at 18:30
  • Here is a video by the Obama White House about it: youtube.com/watch?v=CZSoUBNz13Q
    – 2080
    Jan 21, 2021 at 18:55
  • 7
    That's got to be hard to break muscle memory enough to change pens mid signature.
    – Bobson
    Jan 22, 2021 at 16:37
  • 1
    @lejonet Not as much as for the laptops.
    – Haydentech
    Jan 23, 2021 at 17:03
  • 1
    In his memoir Obama commented that the many pens also made the act look like it was signed by a small child. Jan 24, 2021 at 22:49

The pens are usually given to people attending the "Signing Ceremony."

One for each order (or law or whatever) signed, and the pen is then given to one of the witnesses.

The Wikipedia article mentions the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that the pens used were given to people involved in making that act come into being - including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. Those pens would be something of a mark of pride for those involved.

I can't guess who will get/got the ones President Biden used for the current executive orders. There's no mention of who was there, or who the pens might have been given to.

  • 4
    "One for each order (or law or whatever) signed": sometimes one for each letter, or more than one for each letter, since Obama managed to use 22 in a single eleven-letter signature.
    – phoog
    Jan 22, 2021 at 21:39

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