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The company was established in 1928 as Tintenkuli Handels GmbH. The company's first product was the Tintenkuli, a stylographic pen - a founatain pen with a narrow steel tube instead of a conventional nib. While stylographic pens were already common in America and in fact pre-dated conventional fountain pens, they had not been previously marketed in Europe, and Rotring would eventually become the name associated with such pens throughout the world.
"Rot ring" directly translates to red ring - which is still placed around the barrel of their pens today. The company's name was changed to Rotring in the early 70s to match the trademark.
Although stylographs never overtook fountain pens for use in writing, by 1953 the Rotring Rapidograph became the prototypical technical pen of its age. Its technology greatly simplified technical drawing. Rapidographs are still made today, both by Rotring and by Koh-i-Noor.
The advent in the 1990s of computer-aided design (CAD) saw the partial demise of the technical drawing pen. To combat this, Rotring diversified its range of graphic pens, pencils and markers.
In 1998 Rotring was taken over by Sanford, an American company specialising in graphic products and part of Newell Rubbermaid Inc. since 1992.