We're all excited today because our little blog – barely six months old – was mentioned in a story about Skilcraft ballpoint pens on the front page of the Washington Post. Of course, it was a very brief bit at the end of the story, but it's still a big moment for us.
Back in February, we posted a little piece on the US government pens assembled by blind workers. Ylan Mui, a business reporter at the Post, saw it and interviewed us about the pens (and did a great job digging into their history). She wrote an interesting and entertaining article, and it ran in the paper this weekend.
The unassuming pen stamped with the words "SKILCRAFT U.S. GOVERNMENT" in white letters has endured despite quantum leaps in communications technology that have rendered lesser tools obsolete. Taking over from the fountain pen, it has withstood the advent of the rubberized "comfort grip" and the freely flowing gel ink, not to mention computers, instant messages and smartphones. The U.S. Postal Service alone orders 700,000 a year.
Annual production at the Greensboro, N.C., plant has dropped during the past two decades from 21 million pens to about 4 million, but it remains a bestseller among Skilcraft's office supplies.
Part of the pen's cult appeal comes from its writing capabilities. Among other things, the original General Services Administration requirements for items FSC 7520 (the ballpoint pen) and FSC 7510 (the refill) dictated that:
• The ink cartridge shall be capable of producing under 125 grams of pressure a line not less than 5,000 feet long.
• Blobs shall not average more than 15 per 1,000 feet of writing, with a maximum of 25 for any 1,000-foot increment.
• Writing shall not be completely removed after two applications of chemical bleach.
We told her more than she probably wanted to know about the differences between ballpoint pens like these and gel and liquid ink pens, and about how the Skilcrafts were used in the US military, but most of that didn't make it into the paper. What did, however, was a description of how the Tiger Pens blogger made toys out them as a kid.
(He) said many kids showed up at school with the pens, and they quickly figured out how to reconfigure them into pellet guns, pinging one another with ink cartridges.
"It's one of those things that you just sort of take for granted because there's so many of them," (he) said. "You don't think about the history that's behind them."
We swear we're all grown up now and hardly ever abuse pens that way anymore.