Q&A on the News

Q: President Barack Obama uses several pens when he signs an important document. Photos show him using more than one pen. Does he sign his name more than once on the document?

—Kathy McDonough, Peachtree Corners

A: Obama, like many other presidents before him, uses each pen to write a portion of his name when signing important legislation. Obama used 22 pens when he signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on March 23, 2010, saying “This is going take a little while” before he signed the document. Jim Kratsas, the deputy director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum, told NPR that the presidential signatures often look shaky because they’re stopping and starting while writing it. “And the fact is, you know, it’s not a fluid signature, like when we sign our checks and so on,” he said. “So if you’re doing one letter at a time, or even a half a letter with 22 pens, it’s got to be a little difficult, to say the least.” President John F. Kennedy would spell out his middle name (Fitzgerald) or add a “flourish under his signature,” Time reported, if he felt like he would run out of letters before pens. The president often gives the pens to legislators or supporters as keepsakes. Lyndon Johnson used 75 pens when he signed the Civil Rights Bill in 1964, giving one to Martin Luther King Jr.

Andy Johnston wrote this column. Do you have a question about the news? We’ll try to get the answer. Call 404-222-2002 or email q&a@ajc.com (include name, phone and city).