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The MacArthur Pens

(This page revised September 21, 2023)

Reference Info Index | Glossopedia  ]

On Sunday, September 2, 1945, on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri, which was symbolically moored on the exact spot in Tokyo Harbor where Commodore Matthew Perry’s paddle-wheel flagship USS Mississippi had been moored in 1853, General Douglas MacArthur used several assorted fountain pens to sign the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, officially ending World War II. The identities of those pens, however, are not all known with certainty. This article lays out all that is currently known about them.

Much of the information here is taken from a memoir written by Colonel Hervey Bennett Whipple, logistics officer for U.S. Forces in the Southwest Pacific, to whom MacArthur had assigned the task of making the arrangements for the surrender ceremony. Whipple was an eyewitness to the surrender ceremony in the role of, as he phrased it, “the Cecil B. DeMille of the Japanese surrender.” Whipple was obsessed with the nuts and bolts of whence things came and whither they went, and he wrote extensively over the matter of the pens.

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After MacArthur delivered a brief opening speech, he invited the Japanese representatives, Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu and General Yoshijirō Umezu, to sign the Instrument of Surrender. When they had finished signing, MacArthur accepted the surrender on behalf of the Allied Powers and signed in his capacity as Supreme Commander of Allied forces in the Pacific. There has been much Internet discussion about the pens MarArthur used. Various sources cite the number as four, five, or six, and many give details as though the numbers they state were certain. The correct number is six, as established by Whipple’s memoir and by the known dispositions of all six pens. Only the identities of the pens have remained a topic of discussion.

There exists a motion picture of the surrender, produced by the United Newsreel Corporation and now in the U.S. National Archives; but the film’s editing and the inherently poor video quality of the original 16-mm image make it possible to positively identify only two of the pens. These two pens, one of which is shown here, were desk versions of Waterman’s Hundred Year Pen. However, the film does concur with Whipple’s memoir in saying that MacArthur used six pens.

Fountain pen

The first two pens can be connected easily with their dispositions, as follows:

Pens 3, 4, and 5 were also desk pens. In the following still photograph (clickable image), of much higher quality than the newsreel, MacArthur is signing with Pen 5. It can be identified because it is slenderer than the rather bulky Waterman pens. The two desk pens lying on the table are Pens 3 and 4, both Watermans. According to Zobel, the four Waterman pens were acquired for the ceremony by Major General Courtney Whitney, a member of MacArthur’s staff. MacArthur had requested in 1942 that Whitney, then a lieutenant colonel, be assigned to the Southwest Pacific Theater, where MacArthur promoted him and gave him responsibility for Philippine civil affairs.

MacArthur signing surrender document

Pen 5 was the personal property of Major General Whitney, borrowed from him for the ceremony. Whipple identifies Whitney’s pen as a Sheaffer pen but gives no further detail; however, the pronounced gleam from its center band in the color photograph below identifies it tentatively as an Autograph pen, fitted with a broad solid gold band on which the owner’s signature could be engraved. If this is the correct identification, it would be a Model 75. After signing with Whitney’s pen, MacArthur laid it down and proceeded to sign with Pen 6, which he had been carrying in his shirt pocket.

Pen 6 has long been the subject of controversy. Many sources, including the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana, identify this pen as a 1928 Parker Duofold. That identification is correct as far as it goes, but it is incomplete because in 1928 there were four Duofold models in red: Senior (“Big Red”), Junior (“Little Red”), Special, and Lady Duofold. As of this writing, the World War II Museum’s website includes a photo of a Big Red Duofold, and that’s where things go sideways. The website says further, “Some writers believe that the pen actually belonged to his wife but at that time pen manufacturers made smaller pens marketed specifically for women so this maybe [sic] unlikely.” This subtly worded dismissal makes no sense; if the pen was Jean MacArthur’s pen, why would it not have been the smaller model? In fact, Whipple says that MacArthur returned his wife’s small red fountain pen (emphasis added) to his pocket as soon as he used it. Here is a 1928 Duofold Junior like the one that Jean MacArthur owned.

Fountain pen

Unfortunately, Mrs. MacArthur’s pen was stolen from her apartment in New York’s Waldorf Astoria Towers during a robbery in the 1980s. No one knows what became of it.

Whipple’s statement aside, how can we be certain that Pen 6 was a Little Red, not a Big Red? The following color photograph (clickable image) shows MacArthur signing with Pen 6. It is certain that MacArthur posted the pen because a Big Red, if unposted, would not have extended so far above his hand when he was writing. Experimentation has shown that a Big Red, when posted, is long enough that it would have extended much farther than the pen in the photo, far enough that its cap bands would be at least partially visible. However, a Little Red, when posted, presents the same appearance as the pen in the photo.

MacArthur signing surrender document

When he had finished signing the document, MacArthur left Pens 3, 4, and 5 on the table. All three were there when Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, next in line after MacArthur, signed for the United States and General Hsu Yung-chang (Xu Yongchang) signed for China.

According to the Whipple memoir, Admiral Sir Bruce A. Fraser, who signed for the United Kingdom after Nimitz and Hsu, used both Pens 3 and 4. Whipple notes that he overheard an American general, possibly Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle, whisper, “I see the British are still lend-leasing our equipment.” Fraser also used at least one other pen; the upper photograph below (clickable image) shows him using a pocket pen of some type while Pens 3, 4, and 5 lie on the table. When he left the table, he gathered up Pens 3 and 4 and handed then to an aide, who pocketed them. Pen 5 remained on the table; it is visible in the lower photo below (clickable image), of Lieutenant General Kuzma N. Derevyanko of the Soviet Union, who signed immediately after Fraser.

Fraser signing surrender document
Photo by Sublieutenant W. G. Cross, in the public domain.
Fraser signing surrender document

Fraser’s appropriation of these pens was not what MacArthur had in mind, however, and Whipple records that Pens 3 and 4 were retrieved by MacArthur’s chief of intelligence, Major General Charles A. Willoughby. MacArthur had intended to donate them to West Point and the U.S. National Archives. Apparently, he did not make those donations, and both pens are now in the collection of the MacArthur Memorial. (As of this writing, one is on loan to the Pentagon.) No one kept track of which of these pens was which; accordingly, it is not known whether the pen shown here is Pen 3 or Pen 4.

Fountain pen
Photo © MacArthur Memorial. Used under 17 U.S.C. §107, Fair Use.

After the ceremony, MacArthur retrieved Pen 5 from the table. He returned it to Whitney that evening, and it is now in the possession of a Whitney family member.

In sum, thanks to the careful record keeping of Colonel Whipple and the images produced at the ceremony, we now know with certainty that General MacArthur used six pens to sign the Japanese Instrument of Surrender, and we know the dispositions of all six. We know the manufacturers of all six, and we know the models of all but General Whitney’s Sheaffer.

A seemingly irrelevant — but ultimately crucial — fact that a sharp-eyed observer might notice is that there were two “Swivodex” dip-less desk sets, made by the Zephyr American Corporation, on the table, one at each end (most clearly visible in the photo of Admiral Fraser signing). These sets’ black glass bases included the molded-in text PROPERTY OF U.S. NAVY. None of the first six signers used either of these pens. Derevyanko, the seventh person to sign, appears to be using the one from the stand to his left.

One of the humble Swivodex pens went on to play a vital role in the day’a events. Possibly because he was blind in one eye from a World War I wound, Canada’s Colonel Lawrence M. Cosgrave, signing ninth, inadvertently signed the Japanese copy of the document below the line bearing his name instead of in the correct location above it. The next signer, Général de Corps d'Armée Philippe L. de Hauteclocque of France, hesitated as if wondering what to do but then went ahead and signed below his own line. The two remaining signers, Lieutenant Admiral Conrad E. L. Helfrich of ther Netherlands and Air Vice-Marshal Leonard M. Isitt of New Zealand, followed suit, with Isitt signing in the blank space at the bottom of the page.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Japanese representatives conferred briefly and then lodged an objection: their copy of the Instrument of Surrender was unacceptable because the last four signatures were in the wrong places. When the error was pointed out, MacArthur‘s chief of staff, Lieutenant General Richard K. Sutherland, sat down at the table and took up the Swivodex pen to his right (photo below), which happened to be the same pen Cosgrave had used. He drew two lines through each of the errant signatories’ printed titles and rewrote the titles below the signatures to which they corresponded. The Japanese still declined to accept the document until Sutherland initialed each of the emendations. When he had done so, the Japanese ceased their protests, and the war was officially over.

Suthermand emending surrender document

  1. Whipple wrote his memoir (now in the Naval Historical Foundation collection held by the Library of Congress) in 1965, basing it on notes that he had taken in August and September 1945; it was quoted extensively in “Surrender Seen Close Up,” an August 25, 2005, article by Burritt Sabin in The Japan Times.  Return

  2. The pen shown is Pen 2, given to Lt. General Percival as described later in this article. The photo is an edited version of one showing the pen in situ and is © 2023 Richard Binder.  Return

  3. All unattributed photos of the signing used in this article are more than 75 years old and are assumed to be in the public domain.  Return

  4. The four Duofold models can be distinguished by their features and dimensions. All had clips except the Lady Duofold, which was a ring-top model. The Senior was an oversize pen, 5" long capped and about 6" posted, with a barrel girth of 0.527". The Junior was 4" long capped and about 5" posted, with a barrel girth of 0.483". The Special was the same length as the Senior, with the same girth as the Junior. Not including its ring and mount, the Lady Duofold was 4" long capped and about 5" posted, with a barrel girth of 0.423".  Return

  5. Nimitz signed the Japanese copy of the document with a Parker “51” given to him by Y. C. Woo, a prominent San Francisco banker and a close friend. Nimitz had it engraved as a “Victory” souvenir and regifted it to Woo. It disappeared during a journey Woo later took from Hawaii to Hong Kong, and it is now in a museum in Nanjing, China. For the Allied copy, Nimitz used an old and somewhat discolored Jade Green Parker Duofold pocket pen that he described as an “old favorite”; that pen is now on permanent display at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis, Maryland. He did not touch any of the desk pens on the table.  Return

  6. Hsu signed with an unidentified pocket pen. Like Nimitz, he did not touch any of the desk pens on the table.  Return

The information in this article is as accurate as possible, but you should not take it as absolutely authoritative or complete. If you have additions or corrections to this page, please consider sharing them with us to improve the accuracy of our information. My thanks to Jim Zobel for his kind assistance in clarifying the dispositions of some of the pens, and to Pablo Perez Trabado, who provided the information regarding the historic contribution of the Swivodex desk pen.

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