An autopen or signing machine is a device used for the automatic signing of a signature. The reason for employing an autopen is typically emotive, intending to form a compromise between making every signature by hand and printing a reproduction of the signature, perceived as impersonal by the recipient.
The first signature duplicating machines were developed by an Englishman named John Isaac Hawkins. Hawkins received a United States patent for his device in 1803. In 1804, Thomas Jefferson began using the device extensively. This early device was known at the time as a polygraph (an abstracted version of the pantograph) and bears little resemblance to today's autopens in design or operation. The modern autopen called the Robot Pen was developed in the 1930s, and became commercially available in 1937 (used as a storage unit device, similar in principle to how vinyl records store information) to record a signer's signature. A small segment of the record could be removed and stored elsewhere to prevent misuse. The machine would then be able to mass-produce a template signature when needed.
Harry Truman is believed to have been the first United States President to use the Autopen as a way of responding to mail and signing checks.Gerald Ford was the first President to openly acknowledge his use of the Autopen. Autopen devices are used today by politicians and fundraisers to sign letters to constituents written by administrative assistants and clerical staff, and by other famous people to sign autographs. A company named Studio Fanmail uses autopens to reproduce celebrity autographs onto pictures of celebrities.
While visiting France, President Obama authorized the use of an autopen to create his signature which signed into law an extension of three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. On January 3, 2013, he signed the extension to the Bush tax cuts, preventing the 'fiscal cliff', using the Autopen while vacationing in Hawaii. In order to sign it by the required deadline, his other alternative would have been to have had the bill flown to him overnight. Republican leaders have raised questions as to whether this use of the Autopen meets the Constitutional requirement for signing a bill into law but the validity of presidential use of an autopen has not been actually tested in court. During his term in office, George W. Bush asked for and received a favourable opinion from the Department of Justice regarding the constitutionality of using the autopen, but did not use it himself.
Further developing the class of devices known as autopens, Canadian author Margaret Atwood created a device called the Longpen, which allows audio and video conversation between the fan and author while a book is being signed remotely.
- Autopen Model 50
- International Autopen Company
- Hamilton, Charles, The Robot That Helped To Make A President: A Reconnaissance Into the Mysteries of John F. Kennedy's Signature, Charles Hamilton Autographs, New York, 1965.
- Andrea Seabrook, "Obama Wields His ... Autopen?"
- Benac, Nancy - Associated Press (27 June 2011). "Obama's Signature: Is It Real Or Is It Autopenned?". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 2013-01-05.
- "Robot Pen Copies Handwriting From A Record" Popular Mechanics, May 1937
- Whether The President May Sign a Bill by Directing That His Signature Be Affixed To It United States Department of Justice July 7, 2005
- Resnick, Brian (3 January 2013). "When a Robot Signs a Bill: A Brief History of the Autopen". National Journal. Retrieved 2013-01-03.
- Cheney, Lynne (August 1983). "The Autopen". The Washingtonian. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
- Brick, Krista (14 July 2011). "Rockville Company's Signature Replications Have Homeland Security Calling". Rockville Patch. Retrieved 2013-01-05.
- Mascaro, Lisa (2011-05-27). "Congress votes in time to extend key Patriot Act provisions". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2011-05-27.
- Presenter: Diane Sawyer (2 January 2013). "ABC World News: Signing It Into Law". ABC World News with Diane Sawyer. 6:30 minutes in. ABC. http://www.damilic.com/info/newsroom/signing-with-autopen. Retrieved 2013-01-06.
- Jackson, David (2011-06-17). "Republicans protest Obama signing bill with autopen". USA Today.
- Mark Knoller (18 November 2011), Obama uses autopen, again, to sign bill into law CBS News
- Kevin Cirilli (January 3, 2013), 10 facts about the ‘autopen’ Politico