Parker Pen History, Jim’s Fountain Pen Site
Parker Pen Company Story
“A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson –
Since 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 his students.
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 Company.
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, grew steadily.
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 Columbus.
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 prize.
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 Dan.
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 over town,
– 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 Molesworth, 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 England.
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 gold.
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 market.
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 Keepsake Pen.
Parker launched its first roller ball pen in 1975. The Systemark 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 in 1983.
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 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 language.
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