The pens read “Skilcraft U.S. Government.” And if you have worked for an American government institution, chances are you’ve used one. About $5 million worth of these pens are sold every year (with 60 percent going to the military), and they have quite the story behind them.
To start, they’re assembled by the blind. In 1938, in the midst of the Great Depression, the government stepped in to help blind workers, who were already at a competitive disadvantage. Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Wagner-O’Day Act, which required that the federal government purchase specific goods manufactured by blind Americans. The law soon included pens.
The Skilcraft brand came to be a decade or so later, in 1952. Today, the company employs over 5,500 blind workers in 37 states, producing an arsenal of office supplies, with the pens made in factories in Wisconsin and North Carolina. The pens must be built to the specifications outlined in a 16-page document that was first promulgated more than 50 years ago. Among the requirements? The pens must be able to write continuously for no less than 5,000 feet and in temperatures up to 160 degrees and down to 40 degrees below zero. You know, just in case.