Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Salute to the Government Pen

The Washington Post has published a rather touching ode to the U.S. Government pen today:

Among the elaborate seals, bronze statues and marble hallways that adorn federal Washington, there is another symbol of the machinery of government that is often overlooked: the lowly ballpoint pen.

-- snip --

Blind workers assemble the pens in factories in Wisconsin and North Carolina under the brand name Skilcraft as part of a 72-year-old legislative mandate. The original 16-page specifications for the pen are still in force: It must be able to write continuously for a mile and in temperatures up to 160 degrees and down to 40 degrees below zero.

It has been used in war zones and gas stations, and was designed to fit undetected into U.S. military uniforms. According to company lore, the pen can stand in for a two-inch fuse and comes in handy during emergency tracheotomies.

They could hardly be any more plain and utilitarian, but I can attest that they do work as advertised, and - at less than $7 a dozen - they cost almost nothing. You can't say that about anything else the government does.

I haven't used one for many years, but we have a constant supply of Skilcraft government pens in my office's supply cabinets. If you've ever worked in a U.S. Government office, you've probably seen them. If you served in any branch of the U.S military, then you certainly have used them.

The pens are part of government office folklore - like that bit about emergency tracheotomies - and they have even inspired a Haiku:

Skilcraft ballpoint pen

"For official use only"

Lives at my house now

The U.S. Government Pen is a regular public servant among writing instruments, and I hereby salute it.


Anonymous said...

Are these also... Michel's pens?

TSB said...

You're right. I missed that:

"I think we all know what is going on here: The Embassy discriminates against non-1970s era blue pens who are not made by the Lighthouse for the Blind."

LFTB - now called National Industries for the Blind - does indeed make the pens, and the USG does indeed discriminate in their favor due to legislation passed in 1938.

I knew a lobbyist for NIB, a very nice elderly - and blind - woman who taught English as a Second Language with me at nights, and she worked tirelessly on Capitol Hill to keep things that way.