Parker Pen Company

1892 - present

Parker helped to write history
In the last couple of years, some observers of business in Wisconsin have said that
The PARKER Pen Co.'s name actually is a misnomer because the company now realizes most of its revenues and profits from Manpower Inc., the world's leading provider of temporary services.
The writing instrument side of PARKER Pen's business has been hurting for
several years, and selling the Writing Instrument Group reportedly is one of the alternatives the company is considering as it weighs possible cures for the ills of slumping profits.
Furthermore, the current president and chief executive officer of PARKER Pen,
Mitchell FROMSTEIN, came to the company as president of Manpower, which had been newly acquired in 1976.
But the history of the pen company and its many, innovative products has been
entwined with Janesville's for almost 100 of the city's 150 years. And the company remains the leading producer of "quality writing instruments" in most of its many markets worldwide.
In 1888, George S. PARKER taught telegraphy in Janesville and sold John Holland
pens to his students as a sideline. He felt obligated to repair faulty pens. "This necessitated my purchasing some simple tools, including a small scroll saw, a lathe, cutter, etc.," he wrote several years before his death in 1937.
PARKER became dismayed with the unreliability of the pens he sold. "With my
scroll saw, file and other tools, I made up a feeder, eventually fitted it into a holder, and lo and behold, it worked. What's more it worked well," PARKER wrote.
Thus was born the first PARKER pen, and a new chapter in Janesville history
started to be written.
The next year, he took out his first pen patent and became a manufacturer. He had
no sales force and lacked working capital, but PARKER took advantage of Janesville's being a center for regional travels. One of the city's many hotels was a gathering place for traveling salesmen, and PARKER persuaded them to carry his pens as a sideline.
It was in 1892 that a local insurance man tried to convince PARKER to cover
himself and his business, but PARKER begged off, saying he couldn't afford the policies. But the insurance man, W. F. PALMER, took an interest in the business, which badly needed capital.
"Not a lot of capital was necessary in the early days of the company," PARKER
wrote. "I sold half an interest in my patents and the little business for $1,000 to Mr. PALMER, but he made the check out to The PARKER Pen Co. And so, this $1,000 was used in the development of the business instead of for me personally."
They incorporated the company in 1892. PARKER handled sales and advertising;
PALMER looked after finances and helped manage the company.
For a few years, the business was located in small quarters in what was known as
the Opera House Block, but in 1898, it bought a four-story double building on South Main
Street and used the upper three floors to make fountain pens and inks. In 1908, it was reported the largest pen factory in the world, making $250,000 worth of pens annually.
In 1894, PARKER patented the "Lucky Curve," which gave the young company a
straight route to leadership in the pen business and made Janesville known across the country as its home. The pen drained the ink back into its reservoir when carried upright in the user's pocket. It was the company's principal product up until the 1920s.
A 1908 history of Rock County reads in part: "The success of the PARKER Pen
Company has naturally caused other manufacturers of fountain pens to locate in Janesville, the next largest being the WILLIAMSON Pen Company, who have a factory in the Corn Exchange block; and besides this there are the Century Pen Company, H. B. SMITH Pen Company, the BURDICK Pen Company and the SCRITCHFIELD Pen Company."
In 1903, the company established the first of what would become more than 100
overseas distributors. The first was in Scandinavia.
During World War I, the company introduced the "Trench Pen" for use on European
battlefields. A soldier would make the ink in the pen's cap by mixing a pill with water.
In 1918, the company's sales reached $1 million for the first time. Last fiscal year,
writing instrument sales topped $142 million, and revenue from Manpower added more than $700 million to the company's balance sheet.
The next year, PARKER Pen began constructing a five-story building at [the]
corner of Court Street and what became PARKER Drive to house manufacturing and administrative functions. Later a three-story clubhouse for employees was built.
The company renovated and expanded the bigger building in 1981-83 to house its
worldwide headquarters. It demolished the smaller building after an offer to sell it for $1 to anyone who would move it found no takers.
The company moved manufacturing to its modern Arrow Park facility in 1953, and
in 1983-84 it renovated that plant with state-of-the-art automation and computers. Arrow Park provides jobs for more than 400 people on three shifts.
In 1923, PARKER Pen opened its first foreign manufacturing plant in Toronto,
Canada, and the next year it established a subsidiary in England. As part of the company's restructuring of the past few years, many of the foreign plants were closed. New Haven, England, and Arrow Park remain as the company's two main manufacturing and distribution facilities.
At a facility in Meru, France, craftsmen manufacture by hand the pens in PARKER's
Premier Collection, which sell from $95 to $2,500.
But the most popular pen the company ever made remains the Jotter, which was its
entry into the ballpoint pen market in 1954. More than 400 million Jotters have been sold throughout the world.
[Source: The Janesville Gazette, August 14, 1985, p. 1G, 3G; Courtesy of Lori]

In 1908, PARKER Pen Co. was one of the top 15 companies in Janesville.

For further information, I recommend "The Parker Pen Company's Story" from Jim's Fountain Pen Site.

©2005 ALHN-Rock Co., WI

Site Coordinator: Lori Niemuth