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The history of American writing instruments has deep roots in the "golden age" of fountain pens - when the only way to communicate with people long distance was to handwrite a letter and send it via the pony express. Today, it is assumed that there is no such thing as an American pen company. Everything is outsourced. While that may be true of some pen companies in the USA, there are several noteworthy fountain pen companies continuing the heritage of pens proudly made in the USA.
Legend has it when Lewis Edson Waterman lost a sale due to a faulty fountain pen leaking all over an insurance contract, he designed and patented the first fountain pen with a capillary feed. In 1884, the Waterman Ideal Pen Company was born in New York City, occupying an entire building in the Hudson Square neighborhood. After a rise to global prominence, the Waterman USA shuttered in 1954, leaving the French Waterman subsidiary to continue pen production thereafter.
A similar fate befell the Parker Pen Company. George S. Parker started the company in 1888, building the world's largest pen factory in Janesville, Wisconsin. Parker's mission to "make a better pen" resulted in such iconic models like the Duofold, the Vacumatic, the "51", and the Jotter. The company established a worldwide network of factories, only to be sold off and downsized. In the early 2000's Parker was sold to the Sanford writing instruments division of Newell Rubbermaid. Its previous headquarters in the UK, along with the Janesville office, closed by 2011. The company is now headquartered in France.
Recently, you may have seen the black and gold Cross Century II rollerball pen signing President Joe Biden's executive orders. Although based in Rhode Island, the modern Cross pens are made in China. Another American pen company that came to prominence in the early 20th Century, Sheaffer was purchased by Cross in 2014. The Sheaffer factory in Fort Madison, Iowa produced American-made pens for over a century until it was shut down in 2008.
If you were a writer or business professional in the early 1900s, you would be familiar with two other major American fountain pen companies still around today - Conklin and Esterbrook. Founded in 1898 by Roy Conklin in Toledo, Ohio, the brand was best known for its spokesperson and father of American literature, Mark Twain. His lauded Crescent-Filling mechanism is still in production today. However, the manufacturing takes place overseas while the company is owned by Yafa Pen Co. of Canoga Park, California.
Yafa also owns and operates Monteverde Pens - a brand known for their affordable pen designs manufactured overseas. ACME Studios of Hawaii and Retro 51 of Texas are also American pen brands that outsource their manufacturing.
Esterbrook was established in 1858 by Richard Esterbrook in Camden, New Jersey. If you thought that having 5 nib sizes to choose from is a lot of variety, Esterbrook was known for its massive range of dip pen and fountain pen nib sizes. To this day, many pen collectors source vintage Esterbrook pens and their replaceable nib units that continue to endure for over 70 years. After ceasing operations in 1971, the Esterbrook Pen Company was reborn in 2018 by Kenro Industries in Mineola, New York. The modern Esterbrook Pen designs (like the Estie, Camden, and JR pocket pens) are designed here in the USA and manufactured in Taiwan.
One American pen manufacturer that has kept the production of writing instruments in the USA is Franklin-Christoph. Started in 1901 by J.W. Franklin in Marietta, Georgia. The Franklin Co originally produced ceramics. Five generations later, the company rebranded as Franklin-Christoph and started selling fine accessories, including their first fountain pen in 2001. Since then, Franklin-Christoph became a fan-favorite American pen manufacturer, delighting enthusiasts at pen shows around the USA.
Another American pen company that still produces writing instruments that are "out of this world" is the Fisher Space Pen Company. Its founder, Paul C. Fisher, patented the first "zero gravity" pen in 1966. After vigorous testing, NASA agreed to outfit the Apollo astronauts with these pens during their historic space missions. To this day, the famous Bullet and AG-7 Astronaut pens are manufactured in a suburb of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Pioneering a more durable, forge-resistant fountain pen ink, Noodler's Ink founder Nathan Tardiff formulates and bottles hundreds of colors in Massachusetts. While the components of Noodler's Pens are imported from India, they are designed and assembled in the United States.
To find the new generation of American pen makers, we first look at the birthplace of the famous American inventor, Thomas Edison. Brian Gray founded the Edison Pen Company in his garage in Milan, Ohio. In 15 years of building the business, Edison Pens now have a worldwide distribution of retailers with every pen being produced and finished by American hands.
Several 21st Century American pen companies were founded with the help of crowdfunding and continue producing pens made in the USA to this day. Karas Kustoms (of Arizona) was founded in 2008 thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign. Also with help from Kickstarter, Tactile Turn began machining premium writing instruments from its Texas workshop in 2012. Philadelphia's Ian Schon Kickstarted Schon DSGN in 2012 as well. In 2021, Mike Allen of Woodshed Pen Co (of Charleston SC) crowdfunded the purchase of a CNC lathe to produce a line of shimmering fountain pens.
If you're looking for a one-of-a-kind, handmade acrylic resin pen, the artistry of a Jonathan Brooks Primary Manipulation (Carolina Pen Company) or a Tim McKenzie Diamondcast (McKenzie Penworks) might be on your shopping list. These materials are cast in the USA and shipped to pen turners around the world to craft unique works of functional art.
If you're looking for an American-made pen, Goldspot Pens carries a broad collection of fountain pens, rollerballs, and ballpoint pens made in the USA from established brands and start-up small businesses. Please explore our list of brands and contact us to suggest your favorite American pen maker if we do not carry them.