Parker: The Innovation of Writing
To make a better pen — an aspiration so down-to-earth yet very often, the pen industry gets shaken up by this very promise.
It seems incredible that such a humble wish is the compass that has directed international brand Parker in its mission for the past century, while scaling new heights in the industry with a history deeply rooted in an impressive — still-standing — tradition of initiating innovation after innovation, each one redefining what the world writes with.
In fact, Parker has played a role in many important historical events: In 1945, two Parker 51s signed the final German surrender after World War II, while a 20-year-old Duofold signed the Japanese surrender aboard the Battleship Missouri in Tokyo Harbor. In 1951, representatives of 49 nations signed the Japanese peace treaty with Parker 51s. Two years later, General Mark Clark signed the Korean War Armistice with his Parker 51 Flighter pen.
On 27 January 1973, the US Secretary of State William P. Rogers signed the Vietnam Peace Agreement that put an end to the Vietnam War with a Parker 75 Keepsake fountain pen.
The world recognizes Parker pens with its arrow clip designed by artist Joseph Platt in 1933, acknowledged as a symbol of excellence. Without a doubt, the 119-year-old brand hits the bulls-eye in consumer needs.
Parker strode into the new millennium with a big bang: It rose to the occasion with a major re-launch in 2000, introducing a new logo, new products, new refills and new packaging. If there is a statement one can surmise, this image overhaul can only mean one thing: Stagnancy is never, and will never be, associated with the Parker brand.
Click on the thumbnails to view the Parker 51 pen, the arrow clip and founder George Parker in detail.
Many successful businesses out there share one thing in common: They are established on the premise of improving existing products and services, or developing something entirely new to meet the needs of the market.
Likewise Parker. It owes its rise to international fame to the pure determination of its namesake, George Safford Parker, a telegraphy teacher.
He began selling pens to his students to supplement his income. But the pens often malfunctioned. He felt obligated to repair the pens but before long, he found himself inundated with more faulty pens than he could fix. Frustrated with the poor quality pens, he resolved to invent his own fountain pen that could write well without leaking.
After establishing his company in Janesville, Wisconsin, USA, he patented his first fountain pen in 1889. Within two years, he found a keen investor in insurance broker W.F. Palmer, enabling Parker to officially open for business.
Mr Parker’s scientific talents gained him a foothold in the pen market. But the budding inventor understood the importance of market development as well. His sharp business acumen stood him in good stead as he embarked on a world tour in 1903 in the bid to establish overseas distributorships, his first success being Scandinavia.
Devoted to all aspects of the company, he included his family into the business. In 1914, his son Russell was hired to take charge of production and certain areas of administration. Five years later, Kenneth, the second of Parker’s sons, joined the company to strengthen its marketing efforts, while Mr Parker focused on business development through new distributorships in Europe, Australia, India and the Orient.
The family’s dedicated efforts paid off, opening its first manufacturing subsidiary in Canada in 1923. A year later, they opened a wholly-owned distribution company in London to distribute Parker pens throughout Europe.
Unfortunately, Russell Parker’s death in 1933 pushed his father into a depression that was to haunt him until the king of the modern writing instrument passed away in Chicago at age 74.
In spite of the sad turn of events, it did not cast a grim shadow on the flourishing pen company. Parker continued to explore potential markets overseas and in 1949, it spread their wings with a subsidiary in South Africa and subsequently, manufacturing facilities in France and Mexico two years later. By 1962, Parker had already opened new subsidiaries in Australia, Argentina, Brazil, West Germany, Peru and Columbia. This success was just the tip of the iceberg for Parker — The British Royal Household awarded the company with the Royal Warrant as its sole supplier of pens and inks that year.
Parker survived the worldwide recession that plagued businesses in the 1980s. In fact, its turnover registered a spike of nearly 50%, partly due to a strategy that involved new products and a transition towards the higher end of the market for each sector in which Parker competes to endow greater prestige to the entire range.
Click on the thumbnails to view The Royal Warrant and Parker pens engineered with the Lucky Curve ink feed system in detail.
For Parker, milestones punctuate more than its company history — the company has a culture of innovation that sets the industry buzzing with its design breakthroughs, setting benchmarks in the industry.
Five years after the first Parker pen was patented, the company made its first major technological leap in writing instruments. By draining the ink back into the reservoir when the pen was upright in the pocket by means of capillary action, the Lucky Curve ink feed system single-handedly cemented Parker’s position as a major player in the fountain pen industry when it was introduced in 1894, and set the rule for every Parker to up the ante with every generation.
A year after the slip-on pen cap was patented in 1898, Parker’s second breakthrough was the greatest success in the history of pens: The first jointless pen. To prevent leakage at all times, the vital parts of this fountain pen were encased inside the barrel. This pen was hailed as a product of perfection, but Parker quickly followed up with the Gold Filigree Lucky Curve pens in 1900, which featured pen caps designed for a more secure fit by tapering the inside of the outer cap.
The progressive company never stopped improving pens; it announced a slew of world-class pens that became the talk of the town, such as the “Spear-Head” ink feed. Another of which was the Black Giant in 1905, Parker’s response to consumers’ demand for large fountain pens en vogue of the time. The Black Giant was a sign that fountain pens are outgrowing its utilitarian function to become status symbols.
In 1906, Parker launched the Emblem Pen. It carried great significance; the pen bore the mark of a secret society directly on the pen. The Emblem Pen is the first of Parker pens (followed by the sterling silver and gold Snake Pen) to incorporate such insignia and its concept was very much like corporate gifts of today.
During World War 1, Parker escaped the unfortunate fate that befell many an enterprise. Business was not affected because of the high demand in pens for soldiers to write letters home, and Parker had the right writing instrument to make the connection: The Trench Pen. It held black pellets in its cap, which could be converted into ink when water was added. The handy invention allowed soldiers to refill their pens without leaving the trenches. In fact, the US War Department secured Parker its financial stability throughout the war when it threw the pen business a lifeline with a contract for the Trench Pen. As a result, it determined the brand’s tenacity.
Click on the thumbnails to view Parker’s military-themed advertisements in detail.
Parker’s annual sales surpassed the $1 million mark in 1916 and the brand continued paving the way for contemporary pen development in the 1920s, starting with the introduction of the mechanical pencil. But that was soon overlooked by the company’s biggest and most important launch to date in 1921: The Duofold fountain pen. Recognized as Parker’s flagship product, the Duofold established Parker as the pen company that produces the most dependable and the most fashionable writing instruments on the market because the red-orange hue embodied the spirit of the Roaring Twenties — big, bold and jazzy — a direct contrast to its conservative black contemporaries. Nicknamed “Big Red”, Duofold was the most expensive pen in the market then at US $7.
The stylish Duofold was a great springboard for Parker. It reinforced the brand’s association with its original values of innovation and reliability but at the same time, it sealed the brand’s reputation for looking as slick as it worked. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was said to have written a letter proclaiming: “I have at last met my affinity in pens.”
Click on the thumbnails to view Parker’s celebrity endorsements in detail.
Leveraging on the market impact, the company decided on a strategic move to take the Duofold’s success a notch higher with a guarantee on the Duofold for 25 years.
Although Parker came up with the Duofold pencil in 1923, the expansion of the Duofold pen line really took off in 1926 when a new collection of Duofolds was launched. Instead of the traditional vulcanized rubber, which tend to become brittle, these Duofolds are made of first-of-its-kind durable plastic called Permanite and came in a host of colors like Jade Green, Mandarin Yellow, Lapis Blue as well as Pearl and Black.
Click on the thumbnails to view Parker’s legendary innovation, the Duofold, and its advertisements in detail.
Just as it survived World War 1, Parker did not let the Depression era put the brakes on its groundbreaking product development, introducing Quink, the first pen-cleaning ink, in the market in 1931.
Click on the thumbnails to view Parker’s first pen-cleaning ink, Quink, and its advertisements in detail.
Two years later, Parker’s pen engineering produced the Vacumatic, another hallmark creation. The Vacumatic had a sacless filling mechanism that could hold more than twice the amount of ink than the Duofold, catapulting the pen as the new star. The Vacumatic was considered to be the crowning achievement of Mr Parker’s illustrious achievements as the world’s leading pen maker.
Click on the thumbnails to view Parker’s Vacumatic advertisements in The Saturday Evening Post and other commercial messages spanning 1940-1941 in detail.
The next pen to join Parker’s growing range would win the company prestigious awards with its landmark design. In 1941, the cigar-shaped design Parker 51 with the hooded nib became a bestseller. Its popularity was so overwhelming Parker had to step up production to meet consumer demand.
In 1954, the Parker Jotter made its way into the market and like its predecessors, with a big bang. As the first quality ball pen with an unusually large cartridge design, the Jotter wrote more than five times as much as its peers. For maximum durability, the Jotter has a unique rotating point to prevent the point from wearing unevenly. More than 3.5 million Jotters were sold in its first year alone.
In pursuit of a pen that could “self-draw” ink from the bottle, Parker invested years of intensive research to engineer the first self-filling fountain pen that could hold enough ink to last for six hours of steady writing. The Parker 61 was finally ready in 1956. The next year, Parker set another industry standard with the tungsten carbide textured ball, otherwise known as the T-Ball. The new pens used a superior tungsten carbide sphere, ensuring an improved grip on the surface of the writing paper, eliminating skips and blobs in writing. The T-Ball was incorporated into the Jotter and the improved version was christened the T-Ball Jotter.
After Parker made its first ink cartridge pen in 1960, the Parker 45 (named after the Colt 45 pistol), it concentrated efforts into fibre tips and launched the Touche in 1966 before developing its first roller ball, the Systemark, in 1975.
The Arrow collection of writing instruments, adorned with a highly stylized pocket clip, appeared in 1981. In 1983, Parker went classy with its Premier collection of luxury, handcrafted pens that were encased in precious metals.
The technologically advanced Sonnet range of pens and the Penman range of accessories appeared on the market in 1993, and in 1996, Parker introduced the Frontier range.
After Parker’s major rebranding exercise to usher in a new era, the company launched a series of new products and new refills in new packaging in 2001, such as the Inflection line, the stainless steel Reflex, expanded the Ellipse range to include the roller ball and the pencil and on top of that, presented two new refills: Gel and Needlepoint.
The rebirth of a product speaks volumes of a brand’s position in the market. The particular article is quite certainly the brand’s signature item, one that has forged the brand’s identity, and most probably a top-seller, but that rationale alone would equate to a shallow understanding, undermining the product’s significance. Reviving a product commemorates the eminent contributions the brand has made to the industry with the particular creation — the artefact is recognized as an industry icon — and updates its relevancy with the times.
And as Parker offers consumers a dizzying array of new merchandise, it breathes new life into icons like the legendary Duofold.
To celebrate the company’s 100th birthday in 1988, the world-renowned pen made a comeback as the Duofold Centennial. Made in solid blocks of hand-cast acrylic, trimmed in 23K gold plate, the luxurious Centennial is impervious to wear due to its diamond-polished luster. In a similar vein, the Duofold is an unforgettable icon in the international pen industry. To match the exclusivity of the Duofold Centennial, 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. In 2001, Parker chose the Duofold again to mark the brand’s foray into a new millennium with the Duofold Mosaic Special Edition.
Parker 88 was another noteworthy item for Parker. Inspired by French fashion, and in commemoration of the brand’s centenary in 1988, Parker 88 incorporated precious metals, brilliant lacquer and epoxy finishes. Parker re-launched the range later as Rialto. While it maintained all the popular features of the previous range, Rialto included subtle styling and functional changes for greater performance. Four years later, Duofold’s marble finishes were revamped as the collections were redesigned and received three new finishes inspired by gemstones.
The Parker Vector roller ball created waves when it was launched in 1982, and soon, it expanded to include a fountain pen, ballpoint pen and pencil in the collection. To keep up with the times, Parker updated the Vector range with metallic, translucent and dichroic finishes in 1995.
Parker started out designing pens ahead of its time and in recognition, the precision-engineered Insignia collection was unveiled in 1991.
In this age where people type more often than they write, communication through a pen is elevated into an art form. Parker ensures that the science and technology behind it is not forgotten.
In the specialized field of writing instruments, only Parker can lay claim to the revolutionary Lucky Curve, the brainchild of founder George Safford Parker, as well as other groundbreaking systems that have become industry landmarks.
Indeed, Parker’s brand longevity is largely due to its resilient presence in the market as a household name synonymous with high quality, trailblazing pens that are both timeless and reliable. Unassuming the name might be, the brand is unpretentious with the simple desire to record the written word with better pens, and its efforts are definitely far from modest. Rather, they could be quite dramatic — Parker is no stranger to springing surprises through publicity stunts such as throwing new Duofolds made in Permanite over the Grand Canyon and out of an aeroplane at 3,000 feet to prove their durability. In fact, the early Duofolds are considered to be must-haves for today’s vintage pen collectors.
Click on the thumbnails to view Parker’s advertisement and other images of the stunt in detail.
Since it went into overdrive in 1889, Parker’s product developments never seem to have taken a moment of breather, and the veteran shows no signs of slowing down in this digital age.
It looks like we can expect Parker to keep aficionados of the art of writing ahead with innovation with many more years to come.
And exude both style and substance while writing with a Parker.
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