Resources | The Parker Pen Company History
Parker Over A Century of Success
Making a better pen was what the Parker Pen Company's founder, George Safford Parker, set out to do when he couldn't find one that wrote well and didn't leak. Parker believed that if he "made a better pen, people would buy it." And so he did.
George Safford Parker did not start out a maker of pens. Instead, he began his career as a teacher of telegraphy. To supplement his teaching income, Parker started selling pens for the John Holland Pens Company. In fact, his telegraphy students were his main customers.
When the pens he sold malfunctioned, Parker felt obligated to fix them. Soon overwhelmed with repair work, he decided to invent his own version of the fountain pen. Thus, Parker's famous idea of "making a better pen" came to life. With that, the Parker Pen Company was born. It was 1888 in Janesville, Wisconsin, USA.
The following year, Parker patented his first fountain pen and two years later found an investor, insurance broker W. F. Palmer, for his fledgling company. With an initial investment of $1,000 U.S., Palmer bought half of Parker's shares in both the patents and the business. Thus, the Parker Pen Company was officially opened for business.
The first major technological breakthrough for the company came in 1894 with the Lucky Curve ink feed system. The feed system was designed to drain the ink back into the reservoir by capillary action when the pen was upright in the pocket of its owner. Parker employed this special technique in most of its top-selling pens until 1928 (The only alteration to this system occurred in 1898 when the under-feed system design replaced the Lucky Curve). With the advent of the Lucky Curve, Parker was now a major player in the fountain pen industry.
In 1898, the slip-on outer pen cap was patented. The following year, Parker introduced the biggest success of the pen age, the first jointless pen. The product was thought of as perfection because the vital parts of this fountain pen were encased inside the barrel ensuring no leakage at any time.
In 1900, The Gold Filigree Lucky Curve Pens were introduced. In the same year, Parker patented the taper on the inside of the outer cap, a design improvement to make it fit more securely.
In addition to his scientific talents and success as an inventor, Parker understood the importance of market development. In 1903, he embarked on a world tour, hoping to establish overseas distributorships. His first success was the Scandinavian region.
In the years leading up to World War I, Parker announced several technological innovations, including the Black Giant, Parker's response to consumer demand for large en vogue fountain pens. The Black Giant, precursor to the Duofold, was released in 1905. Featuring a slip-on cap and a smooth shoulderless section, it was filled with an eyedropper and had a conventional threaded section barrel joint. The Black Giant sold successfully until its discontinuation in 1921.
Other famous milestones in the company's history during the early 1900s were, the development of the "Spear-Head" ink feed in 1905, the Emblem Pen (1906), forerunner to the business to business products of today, incorporating the mark of some secret society directly on the pen. The sterling silver and gold Snake Pen followed the year after. In 1911, an improved Lucky Curve feed was patented and in 1912, a new form of the safety cap was introduced.
Unlike most companies, the onset of the First World War did little to slow business for the Parker pen company, partially due to the serendipitous invention of the Trench Pen. This pen held black pellets in its barrel, which, when added to water, would transform into ink. Their unique design allowed soldiers to refill their pens while remaining in the trenches. The US War Department awarded Parker a contract for the Trench Pen, ensuring the company's financial success throughout the First World War.
Once again proving his dedication to all aspects of the business, in 1914, Parker employed his son, Russell, to concentrate on production and certain areas of administration. Five years later, Kenneth, the second of Parker's sons, joined his father and brother to improve the company's marketing efforts.
In 1916, Parker debuted yet another precursor to the Duofold-the Jack Knife safety pen. Two years later, annual sales surpassed the $1 million mark. The following year, the company erected a new building, housing manufacturing and administration, in Janesville. The building served as corporate headquarters until 1986.
The Parker Pen Company continued to flourish throughout the 1920s, beginning with the invention of the mechanical pencil. Parker busied himself with attracting new distributorships throughout Europe, Australia, India and the Orient.
In 1921, the company's biggest and most important launch to date-that of the Duofold fountain pen-earned Parker its reputation as the pen company that produces the most dependable as well as the most fashionable writing instruments on the market. The Duofold, nicknamed "Big Red," embodied the feel of the Roaring Twenties-big, bold and very jazzy. At $7.00, Duofold was the most expensive pen on the market.
Now synonymous with vintage fountain pens, the Parker name took on new meaning-innovation, style and reliability. Parker, pleased with the sales and durability of their latest creation, decided to guarantee the Duofold for 25 years. The Duofold pencil followed in 1923.
Also in 1923, the first Parker manufacturing subsidiary opened in Canada. The following year, a wholly-owned distribution company opened in London to handle most of Canada's production. This site distributed Parker pens throughout Europe.
Parker's Duofold family expanded in 1926 and 1927 to include Jade Green, Mandarin Yellow, Lapis Blue and Pearl and Black-all available in a first-of-its-kind durable plastic called Permanite. The new material replaced the traditional vulcanised rubber, which tended to be brittle. Parker employed publicity stunts, such as throwing these new pens over the Grand Canyon and out of an aeroplane at 3,000 feet, to prove their durability.
The 1930s proved to be another breakthrough decade for the Parker pen company. Quink ink came on the scene in 1931. Then in 1933, another miracle of Parker's pen engineering produced the Vacumatic featuring a sacless filling mechanism which held over twice as much ink as the Duofold. This cutting-edge creation catapulted the Vacumatic ahead of the Duofold in popularity. It was considered to be Parker's masterpiece and the crowning achievement of his long career as the world's leading pen maker. Artist Joseph Platt designed Parker's now-famous arrow clip that same year. Since then, it's become synonymous with writing instrument excellence.
Russell Parker died in 1933, pushing his father into a depression that would last until his own death four years later. George Safford Parker, king of the modern writing instrument, died in Chicago at age 74. Fortunately, the Parker Pen Company carried on and continued to flourish.
In 1941, the Parker 51, with its cigar-shaped design and hooded nib, earned the company prestigious design awards. Its landmark design contributed to its popularity and soon demand exceeded production. The Parker 21, a less expensive version of the 51, was introduced in 1948.
Parker continued to explore the potential of overseas markets and in 1949 opened a subsidiary in South Africa followed by manufacturing facilities in France and Mexico two years later. Then in 1954, another landmark innovation, the Parker Jotter, made its way onto the scene. The first quality ball pen with an unusually large cartridge design, the Jotter wrote more than five times as long as standard ball pens. The pen also featured a unique rotating point to prevent wear. In its first year, more than 3.5 million Jotters were sold.
After years of intensive research, Parker launched the first self-filling fountain pen, the Parker 61, in 1956. Engineered to "self-draw" ink from the bottle, the Parker 61 could hold enough ink to last for six hours of steady writing. The following year Parker developed what would become yet another industry standard, the tungsten carbide textured ball or T-Ball. Using a superior stainless steel sphere, the pen gripped the surface of the writing paper, permitting skip-free, blob-free writing. The T-Ball became part of the Jotter's design. It was now the T-Ball Jotter.
New subsidiaries opened in 1958 and 1959 in Australia and Argentina, respectively. In 1960, subsidiaries opened in Brazil and West Germany. Also in 1960, Parker introduced its first ink cartridge pen, the Parker 45, named after the Colt 45 pistol. The same year, Kenneth Parker, president and chairperson and the only remaining active board member of the Parker family, retired from the company.
The Royal British Household awarded Parker the Royal Warrant as its sole supplier of pens and inks in 1962. Also in that year, subsidiaries opened in Peru and Columbia. In 1964, on its 75th birthday, Parker introduced the Parker 75, a special edition luxury solid sterling silver fountain pen with a 14K gold nib.
Parker's first foray into roller balls occurred in 1966 with the Touche. The following year, Parker announced the Classic line of slim-contour writing instruments. In 1968, the Automatic Mechanical Pencil or Cartridge Pencil, with the capacity to write up to 50,000 words, came on the market. The same year, Martha Parker, wife of George Safford Parker, died.
In 1970, Parker launched the Big Red, a low-line product designed to echo the Parker Duofold styling. Big Red sported an interchangeable ball pen and soft-tip writing modes. Five years later, Parker launched its first roller ball, the Systemark. This new writing mode featured a fountain pen ink system and a textured tungsten carbide ball.
During the next three years, the Parker Pen Company launched five new pens: the Parker 180 (a dual-line nib fountain pen), the Parker 25, the Parker 50, Ms. Parker and the Swinger, which later became known as the Slinger, a leisure pen that hung around the neck. In 1979, George Parker's son, Kenneth, died.
In the 1980s, Parker continued to flourish. The Arrow collection of writing instruments, with their highly-stylised pocket clip, appeared in 1981. And, in 1982, the Parker Vector roller ball became an instant success. The Vector fountain pen, ball pen and pencil soon followed. In 1983, Parker created its Premier collection of luxury writing instruments. These handcrafted pens, encased in precious metals, can take up to six weeks to produce.
The UK management team succeeded in a buyout of the Writing Instruments Division in February 1986. Corporate headquarters moved to Newhaven, England. Despite a world recession, Parker increased its turnover by almost 50% in the five years following the management buyout.
In 1988, in recognition of its 100th birthday, the world witnessed the re-launch of the most famous Parker pen, the Duofold, now the Duofold Centennial. Like its predecessors, the Centennial met with huge success. Parker launched the Parker 88 the same year. Inspired by the French fashion centre, the Parker 88 incorporated International styling in precious metals, lacquer and epoxy finishes.
Parker established the Platinum Club in 1989 in the US and Australia for Duofold owners, offering elite privileges and complementary services. The following year, Parker enhanced the Duofold collection with the addition of the Parker International fountain pen, a slimmer, shorter version of the Centennial, and the Duofold roller ball. The ball pen and pencil use the brass tassie design. Utilising solid blocks of hand-cast acrylic trimmed in 23K gold plate, the Centennial proves impervious to wear due to its diamond-polished lustre.
Parker gave birth to the precision-engineered Insignia collection in 1991. This technically-advanced collection suited the needs of the professional user. In 1992, Pearl and Black joined the Duofold collection. That same year, Parker modified the 88 collection with a new range of colours and a special black trim.
The technologically-advanced Sonnet range of pens and the Penman range of accessories appeared on the market in 1993. The Gillette Company acquired Parker that same year. In 1994, Parker re-launched the 88 range as Rialto, maintaining all of the popular features of the previous range and including subtle styling and functional changes for increased performance. Parker announced a new Vector range with metallic, translucent and dichroic finishes in 1995. And in 1996, Parker introduced the Frontier range. Duofold underwent styling changes and three new finishes, inspired by gemstones, to replace the marble finishes. Rialto gained three new finishes and Insignia, four.
In 1999 Parker prepared for a major re-launch in 2000-new logo, new products (Reflex, Inflection, Ellipse fountain pen and ball pen), new refills, new packaging, new image. And in 2000, Sanford, based in Chicago, IL, USA, acquired the Parker Pen Company through its acquisition of the Gillette Company's stationery products group.
In 2001, Parker introduced the Inflection line and expanded the Ellipse range to include the roller ball and the pencil. In addition, the Duofold Mosaic Special Edition was introduced as a limited offer product. And, the stainless steel Reflex was launched as well as two new refills: Gel and Needlepoint.
Today, Parker continues to build on the success of its famous Duofold with regular reincarnations that capture the spirit of this range. The Duofold Mosaic Special Edition will be launched in 2002-this time in red.
Another of Parker's famous pens-the 51-is making a comeback this year. It will be launched as a Special Edition in the autumn of 2002, sixty-one years after it was first introduced in 1941!
The cap on the new Parker "51" is designed to resemble the facade of New York City's Empire State Building. It will be available in two special finishes: a black barrel with a two-tone silver and gold cap, and a vista blue barrel with an all-silver cap. Interest in the Parker "51" Special Edition is already gaining momentum amongst collectors.
Also in 2002, to honour Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee, Parker has created a stunning 23K gold-plated Duofold engraved with an extract from the Proclamation of Accession. Only 2,500 of these special pens have been made for the occasion-the Queen will be presented with number 001.
Another Parker favourite, the Sonnet, was also specially designed to commemorate the Queen's 50th anniversary. This pen is finished in a royal purple with a 23K gold-plated cap that is also engraved with a commemorative text.
As one of the leading authorities on pens, the Parker brand has a rich palette of choices and over the past century has developed many of the world's most famous writing instruments. The 21st Century promises to be no exception as the Parker brand continues to re-generate and grow with infusions of creative ideas.