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Parker Pen Company Story
man first scrawled in the dirt with his finger, people have searched
for better ways to record the written word. Today, that quest is
perhaps best exemplified by one of the writing instrument industry's
leaders: Parker Pen.
In America, the pen-making industry officially began in 1809.
But, it wasn't until the 1880s that the fountain pen as we know it
got its start. Among the early industry leaders was George Safford
Parker, a school teacher from Janesville, WI who became frustrated
with the unreliability of the writing instruments then available to
To augment his meager teaching salary, Parker had a sideline
as an agent for John Holland fountain pens. The pens were
unreliable, delivering too much ink at times and at other times, no
ink at all. In any case, Parker felt obligated to repair the pens he
sold to his students. So, he purchased a few small tools, and began
to learn the inner workings of fountain pens. As the students
learned they could depend on their teacher to keep their pens in
working order, the number of pens he sold increased, as did Parker's
frustration over the time required for repairs. Finally, he decided
he could make a better pen himself. And he did.
Parker patented his first fountain pen design on December 10,
1889. Two years later he entered a partnership with insurance man
W.E Palmer and in February of 1892 they incorporated the Parker Pen
In 1891, Parker patented an improved under-overfeed. It was
the third patent Parker acquired in a time span of only 18 months.
In 1893 he patented yet another feed; this one would be the
forerunner to the Lucky Curve.
The Lucky Curve, patented on December 4 1894, was to become
the foundation for The Parker Pen Company's first real success. Like
many of Parker's innovations to come, this one was designed to solve
a problem. The problem was that pens carried in a pocket retained
ink in the feed tube. As the ink was warmed by body temperature it
expanded forcing ink to the pen point. When the pen cap was removed,
the excess ink inevitably soiled fingers. Parker's Lucky Curve
employed capillary attraction which completely drained the ink from
the feed tube.
Additional product innovations in these early years included
the development of the Jointless Pen and the slip-fit outer cap.
Parker redesigned the Lucky Curve as an underfeed pen in 1898.
By 1899. Parker was successfully selling pens to the public
and the armed forces. In fact, it was a Parker Pen Jointless Lucky
Curve that was used to sign the Treaty of Peace ending the 1898
Spanish-American War on February 10, 1899.
By the turn of the century pens were already more than
utilitarian objects, they were becoming status symbols. Since only
the educated could read and write, owning a fountain pen became a
visible sign that the owner was educated. The new underfeed design
allowed the gold point of the nib to show, and people wanted their
pens to be noticed. Sales of the Lucky Curve, aided by advertising,
Between 1900 and 1915 Parker created a number of beautiful
pens with gold, silver, gold-filled and mother-of-pearl overlays
that are today highly collectible. One of the legends among pen
collectors is the Parker Snake Pen. A black hard rubber, eyedropper
filled pen with a sterling silver or gold- filled, green-eyed snake
wound around the barrel and cap.
Parker also made a number of improvements to the fountain pen
during these years, including:
- Developing the spear-headfeed
- Improving the Lucky Curve feed
- Patenting the first Safety Cap
- And patenting the level lock clip
While George Parker was always working to improve his
fountain pens, he also was expanding the business. In 1903, Parkers
first overseas distributorship was established in Scandinavia, with
the enlistment of a Copenhagen shopkeeper to carry his pens. Three
years later, Parker introduced the Emblem Pen, a forerunner to the
products of the company's Corporate Markets Division that
incorporated the emblems of secret societies, such as the Knights of
World War I brought a high demand from soldiers abroad for a
means to write home during lulls in the trench warfare. In 1917, the
U.S. War Department awarded Parker a contract for his unique Trench
Pen. It featured black pigment pellets that converted water to ink
in the pen barrel, giving the Doughboys a portable ink maker in the
field. It was during the war that many American soldiers and
Europeans first encountered the Parker pens they would come to
In 1918, for the first time, the Parker Pen company's annual
sales passed the $1 million mark. And in 1919, the company began
construction on a five-story building in Janesville to house the
manufacturing and administrative functions of the growing business.
Despite its tremendous growth, Parker Pen was still essentially a
family business. George Parker's elder son, Russell, had joined the
company in 1914 and his son, Kenneth, came on board in 1919, after
spending a year at the advertising agency of Lord & Thomas. Years
later, they would be joined by the founder's grandsons, George and
The years between 1921 and 1940 are considered the Golden Era
in fountain pen development and manufacturing, though a number of
pen companies were lost during the Depression and all were to some
extent weakened. By the start of World War II, Parker had emerged as
one of the U.S. leaders, mainly due to its innovation and ability to
adapt to the times.
Parker's innovation was evident in 1921 when the company made
its daring introduction of the Parker Duofold. This over-sized.
vivid red-orange fountain pen with its great gold point made a bold
break from its primarily black contemporaries. But probably most
shocking was its selling price, which at $7 was nearly twice the
accepted cost of a pen.
Chicago was selected as the testing ground and the Chicago
Tribune was chosen for advertising. A force of 10 salesmen presented
the new products to the retailers. They were armed with:
- Product samples,
- Reproductions of the Duofold color poster which they pasted all
- Testimonial letters,
- And a letter from the Tribune stating that Parker had signed a
three-month non-cancelable advertising contract.
In one week, gross sales of the pens exceeded the gross cost
of the three-month advertising campaign. Within five months a
national advertising campaign was initiated.
The Parker Duofold was an immediate success. Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle used his to record the exploits of Sherlock Holmes. During the
time he wrote the famous detective's last adventures, he also found
time to write Lord Moles worth, a member of the Parker board of
directors, proclaiming that in the Duofold "I have at last met my
affinity in pens." Today, these early Duofolds are still favorites
of vintage pen collectors.
Within four years, sales had quadrupled and, by 1926, the
Duofold had made Parker the leader in the high-priced pen field.
Within five years, this little Wisconsin company had vaulted to a
place of international renown.
During the early 1920's, George Parker embarked on extensive
tours of Europe, Australia, India and the Orient, establishing a
network of overseas distributors for his products. In 1923, Parker
established its first manufacturing facility outside the U.S. in
Toronto, Canada and in 1924, Parker established a subsidiary in
Even as the company expanded, Parker continued its focus on
improving its products.
The Duofold was continuously modified with the addition of
such things as new sizes and finishes. In 1926, Parker introduced
the first Duofolds made of a plastic, called Permanite, rather than
hard rubber. This change allowed Parker to increase its guarantee
from 25 years to "forever," and to introduce the Duofold in new
colors, including: Jade Green, Mandarin Yellow and Lapis Blue.
The use of unbreakable plastic also opened the door to some
legendary promotions, including dropping the pens from airplanes and
over the side of the Grand Canyon to prove their durability.
In 1928, George Parker's partner, William Palmer, sold 75% of
his company shares to an investment banking house, in preparation
for his retirement. The investment company arranged for those shares
to be traded on the Chicago Stock Exchange and, for the first time,
Parker Pen shares were offered to the public.
During the Depression Parker continued to introduce new products, to
improve existing products, and to invest in research and
development. One of the most important products to come out of the
Depression years was Quink, the first pen cleaning ink. The product
has been so successful that its formula has never been changed.
Out of the research and development of the late 1920s came
Parker's next highly successful pen - the Parker Vacumatic -
introduced in 1933. The Vacumatic had three distinct features:
1) A revolutionary filling system that employed vacuum
pressure rather than a rubber sac and pressure bar. The new filling
method eliminated the rotting rubber sacs and meant that the pen
could hold more ink. In fact, the ink capacity of the Vacumatic was
102% greater than that of the Duofold;
2) The body of the pen was made from a unique laminated
plastic with alternating layers of black and silver pearl, resulting
in a striking series of stripes running around the pen;
3) And, it was the first appearance of the smart Arrow-style
clip, designed by New York artist Joseph Platt. It has since become
Parker's most identifiable trade mark.
The public was quite taken with this new pen, and it remained
Parker's best seller until 1940.
Following George Parker's credo, the company continued to
make this a better pen, with modifications in features and styles
over the years. In 1939, a small blue diamond was added to the top
of the Arrow Clip, signifying that the pen was guaranteed for life.
Today, Parker still stands behind the quality of its writing
instruments by offering a lifetime guarantee.
Parker's next pen design would change the style and look of
all fountain pens to come. Until the arrival of the Parker 5I ,
fountain pens were promoted as holding more ink than the
competition's pen. To accomplish this, pen barrels were made larger
and different filling systems were created to increase a pen's ink
capacity. This feature had sold pens for 60 years.
However, the Parker 51, introduced in 1941, had a slim design
and a hooded nib. It was made of alkali-resistant Lucite and used
quick drying ink. Called the 51 because it was the result of
research conducted in Parker's 51st year, this fountain pen was so
different from conventional pens that Parker promoted it as being
"like a pen from a different planet."
The Parker 51 became such a success that Parker could not
make enough of them to keep up with the demand. Parker at one point
even took out advertising apologizing for the shortage. In countries
outside of the U.S., the Parker 51 was literally worth its weight in
Although the fountain pen industry struggled during the
Depression, with the start of World War II, it thrived once again
and business mushroomed during the 1940s. At the end of the war, it
was with Parker pens that the agreement surrendering the German and
Italian forces in Northwest Italy were signed.
The Armistice ending World War II on the European Front was signed
with Parker 51 pens belonging to General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Though he knew he couldn't attend the signing, Eisenhower insisted
his pens be sent for the event. And it was with his own 20-year-old
Duofold that General Douglas Macarthur signed the document ending
World War II in the Pacific.
In 1948 a lower priced version of the 51 -- the Parker 21 --
was introduced and it quickly garnered 60 percent of the over $5
The Parker 51 retained its popularity and, in 1950, it
received the Fashion Academy Award for exceptional styling,
precision and craftsmanship. Recognized as a forerunner in the
industry, Parker continued to grow. In 1953, a 226,000 square-foot
plant, called Arrow Park, was opened in Janesville with
state-of-the-art automated equipment and manufacturing systems. That
same year Parker opened manufacturing facilities in France and
Mexico. As the writing industry matured, there came new developments
and challenges in France and Mexico. However, the quality of early
ball pens was poor and Parker did not jump on the bandwagon. In
fact, the ball pen didn't become a factor in the market until
improvements in materials, methods and inks were engineered into the
product in the mid 1950s.
Parker eventually joined the industry's quest to improve the
new ball pen, and in 1954 it unveiled the technically superior
Jotter Ball Pen. Parker went on to improve the Jotter in 1957 when
it introduced the T-ball Jotter T-ball Jotter featuring a textured
tungsten carbide ball. The T-ball Jotter immediately rewrote the
standards for the industry. It's performance was, and still is,
superior to the steel ball bearings commonly used by other pens.
Between 1958 and 1962, Parker opened subsidiaries in
Australia, Argentina, Brazil, West Germany, Peru and Columbia. The
products introduced during these years included the Parker 61 Jet
Fighter, the International Jotter, the Parker 45 and the Parker VP.
In 1962 Parker was awarded the Royal Warrant as sole supplier of
pens and inks to the Royal British Household. Parker pens have been
and still are used by royalty and leaders worldwide.
On its 75th Anniversary, Parker introduced its solid sterling
silver Parker 75 luxury fountain pen with a 14 karat gold nib. Its
cross hatch design would become a flagship design for the company.
Today, nearly 30 years later, it still receives accolades for its
design and engineering. In November 1965 Parker announced the 75
Spanish Treasure Fleet Special Edition. It was fashioned from silver
recovered from the Spanish treasure ships that sank off of the coast
of Florida in 1715. Only 4,821 were produced.
1967 saw the introduction of the slim-contoured Classic line
of writing instruments, and in 1968 Parker introduced a mechanical
pencil with the capacity to write of up 50,000 words. The following
year, a special edition Classic pen was fashioned from the Atlas
booster rocket which made John Glenn the first American astronaut to
orbit the earth on February 20, 1962. The fragment of metal used in
these pens survived re-entry and landed in Africa. The booster metal
was used for the push button on the "Space Pens," created in
recognition of the ten-year anniversary of the U.S. space program.
The commemorative pens, which were not for sale, were distributed to
international leaders and celebrities.
In 1970 Parker launched the T-I, a futuristically styled
writing instrument made of titanium components. The famed styling of
the Parker Duofold was revived in 1972 under the label Big Red in
ball pen and soft writing tip modes. Millions were sold to those who
nostalgically recalled the Roaring 20's and to those young enough to
think Big Red was something new. 1973 brought an end to the Vietnam
War, and Former Secretary of State William P. Rogers signed the
Vietnam Peace Agreement in Paris on January 27 with a Parker 75
Parker launched its first roller ball pen in 1975. The System
ark combined the convenience of a ball pen with the smooth ink flow
of a fountain pen. This new roller ball pen featured a fountain pen
ink system and a textured tungsten carbide ball. By using this
award-winning capillary ink system, Parker once again set the
standard for the industry. It was unlike other roller ball pens that
relied on troublesome wick ink governor systems. Typically, roller
ball pens using wick systems have ink lines that fade with use.
Parker continued to offer new and improved ideas. Among the
writing instruments introduced in the late 1970s were: The Parker
I80, a dual line nib fountain pen; the Parker 25 line from England;
the Parker 45; the Parker 50 line; the Ms. Parker and the Swinger
neck pen (now known as Slinger). The Arrow gift line was introduced
in 1981 and the Vector Roller Ball made its first appearance in the
U.K. in 1982. The Parker Premier collection was launched worldwide
On February 1, 1986, the Writing Instrument Group of the
Parker Pen Company was acquired in a leveraged buy-out by Parker
U.K. managers and investors. Parker became a privately held company
and the company's headquarters were moved to Newhaven, England.
Still, the company remained committed to the founder's philosophy
and to the tradition of innovation and quality. The use of Parker
pens for historic occasions also continued. In 1987, President
Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed
the historic Intermediate signed the historic Intermediate Nuclear
Forces Treaty with custom-made Sterling Silver Parker 75s.
The famous Duofold of the 20's was reintroduced in 1987 as
the Duofold Centennial Fountain Pen and Ball Pen, in anticipation of
Parker's 100th anniversary. It was an immediate success, providing
traditional classic pen styling with state-of-the-art writing
technology. In the summer of 1990 the expanded Duofold Collection
was introduced and included the Centennial Fountain Pen, a slimmer
International Fountain Pen, a Roller Ball Pen, and a Ball Pen and
Pencil styled after the original 1920s Pencil. They were available
in a Marbled Blue, Marbled Maroon or Black. A Special Edition Orange
Duofold Centennial Fountain Pen and Mechanical Pencil were also
introduced in the burnt-orange finish of the 1920s. The success of
the Duofold Collection was immediate and exceeded all expectations.
Other products introduced during the late 1980s have included
the Parker 88 Place Vendome, the Parker 95 and Vector fashion pens.
In 1990, the traditional use of Parker pens for historic signings
continued when President George Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail
Gorbachev used specially made Parker 75 Sterling Silver Roller Ball
Pens for the U.S. Soviet agreement banning chemical weapons. Parker
75 Roller Ball Pens also were used at the Moscow Summit on July 31,
1991 for the historic signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty
(START) by Bush and Gorbachev. The signing marked the first time
both nations agreed to reduce stockpiles of long-range missiles.
In 1991, Parker set out to revitalize the $10 to $100 gift
market when it launched a new ball pen and mechanical pencil line,
called the Parker Insignia, in the U.S. This new line of
precision-crafted high performance writing instruments was based on
an ergonomic design and made exclusively at the Janesville p]ant.
The Insignia Collection was successfully introduced to the Asian and
European markets in 1992. That same year, Parker also was appointed
by the World Memorial Fund for Disaster Relief to manufacture
missile emblem pens. Proceeds from their sale supported the Memorial
Fund's worldwide disaster relief efforts. The Memorial Pens featured
emblems fashioned from the metal of scrapped American Pershing and
Soviet SS20 missiles. Parker World Memorial Pens includes a Parker
Duofold Black International Fountain Pen and Ball Pen, and three
Parker Insignia Ball Pen and Pencil finishes. The Parker Duofold
World Memorial Pens are a Limited Edition and no more than 10,000
will be produced and sold in North America. Personalized Parker
Duofold Black International World Memorial Ball Pens were presented
to U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald
Reagan and George Bush at the opening of the Ronald Reagan Library
in 1991 for their efforts to ensure peace.
In 1991, Parker also enhanced several of its popular product
lines. As the demand for beautifully crafted writing instruments
increased, Parker responded by adding a 23kt Gold Plated, a Sterling
Silver and a Marbled Green to its luxurious flagship Duofold line
and a striking new Parker Custom 75 with 23kt gold plated caps and a
choice of four glossy lacquer barrels.
Continuing a long-standing affiliation with historic
signings, custom-made Duofold Orange Roller Ball Pens were used by
President George Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin on June
17, 1992, to sign a historic arms reduction accord in Washington
D.C. Both pledged to destroy two-thirds of their country's strategic
nuclear arsenals within a decade. After the signing, the presidents
continued the tradition of exchanging pens. Stayed through more than
a century by its ability to successfully deliver new ideas,
technologies and products, Parker is truly a world leader. Today,
Parker pens and accessories technologies and products are sold in
over 120 countries and are certainly the pens that write in any