Robust and reliable
The back room of a jewelry store in Fort Madison, Iowa was where the Sheaffer pen company was born in 1912.
Riding on the company's seven employees in their cramped workspace were the hopes and life savings of 45-year-old Walter A Sheaffer. But, as history reflects, the gamble paid off.
Incorporated in 1913, by the 1920s Sheaffer had pioneered the use of plastic pen caps and barrels. Ninety or so years later this may not sound much of a breakthrough, but by the standards of the 1920s it was a leap forward in pen technology.
For generations of Americans, Sheaffer pens symbolize robustness and reliability. The sturdiness of design has built Sheaffer into a world renowned brand name, indeed, in 1951 the 50 millionth Sheaffer pen came off the assembly line.
But the international pen manufacturing company that is Sheaffer today could easily have been extinguished in its formative years. A bitter patents row broke out between Walter A Sheaffer and his erstwhile business partner, George Kraker.
The matter centered on the ownership rights of the double-bar lever filler for which Sheaffer ostensibly held the patent. Ultimately, Walter Sheaffer won the day when the dispute came to court, but only after long and protracted legal proceedings.
With the possible exception of Montblanc, the early history of Sheaffer is patchy. What is certain is that Sheaffer's first fountain pen patent was issued in 1908. But the earliest large scale manufacturing of pens did not get underway until around 1912.
As a result of the wrangling and in-production experimentation, the earliest Sheaffer pens are somewhat sought after by collectors. Pre-market production of the pens appears to have been unthought of, hence there is a wide variation in the earliest Sheaffer pens as design and production methods were ironed out on the fly.
Quickly, Sheaffer pens established itself as a leading force in fine pen production. Nearly 100 years on the brand has not lost any of its attention to detail nor its hunger to satisfy customers and their need for world-class writing instruments.
With email, the web and cell phones dominating our daily lives, there are now the first signs of a digital backlash. Tired with the always on quick and dirty nature of today's communications, a growing number of people are returning to pen and paper. For occasions where a more personal, thoughtful or permanent touch is required it is for their fountain pen, not their keyboard, that many are now reaching.
When Sheaffer made history with his patented, high quality, self-filling fountain pen, little could he know that a century later the pens bearing his name would still be made by hand and still be in such demand.