George Safford Parker started out not as a maker of pens, but rather as a teacher of telegraphy (the long-distance transmission of messages using signalling technology.) To supplement his teaching income, Parker started selling pens for the John Holland Pens Company and soon his students were his main customers.
When the pens he sold malfunctioned, Parker felt obligated to fix them. Soon he became overwhelmed with repair work and decided to invent his own version of the fountain pen. With that, in 1888 in Janesville, Wisconsin, the Parker pen company was born.
The following year, Parker patented his first fountain pen. In 1891 he found an investor, insurance broker W. F. Palmer, for his fledgling company. With an initial investment of $1,000, Palmer bought half of Parker’s shares in both the patents and the business. The Parker pen company was officially open for business, and in 1892 the company was legally incorporated.
The first major 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. With the advent of the Lucky Curve system, Parker was now a major player in the fountain pen market.
Unlike most companies, the onset of the First World War did little to slow business for the Parker pen company, partially due to the invention of the Trench Pen. This pen held black pellets in its barrel which, when added to water, would transform into ink. The U.S. War Department awarded Parker a contract for the Trench pen, ensuring the company’s financial success throughout the First World War.
In 1921, Parker introduced the Duofold. Nicknamed the “Big Red”, it embodied the feel of the Roaring Twenties – big, bold and very jazzy. At $7, it was also the most expensive pen on the market. Pleased with their success, Parker guaranteed all Duofolds for 25 years.
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.
In 1988, in recognition of the company’s 100th birthday, the world witnessed the relaunch of the Duofold, now renamed the Duofold Centennial. Like its predecessors, the Centennial met with huge success.
Parker established the Platinum Club in 1989 in the U.S. 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. Made from solid blocks of hand-cast acrylic trimmed in 23K gold plate, the Centennial proves impervious to wear due to its diamond-polished lustre.
Today, Parker remains amongst the top writing instrument manufacturers in the world. Their enduring designs, along with constant innovation, have allowed the famous ‘arrow’ clip to adorn the pens of millions of people worldwide.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our brief history of Parker. You can see our range of modern Duofolds here, or why not browse the entire range here.