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Johnson Pen Company

One of the most essential personal possessions figuring in business, school and home life was the fountain pen. As use the fountain pen had become universal a great modern industry had been built around its manufacturer in which Rockford was represented by one firm,. In 1923 Clifford N. Johnson founded the Johnson Pen Company in his hometown of Rockford at 117 South First Street. Before establishing his own business, Mr. Johnson was general superintendent of the Conklin pen company, Toledo Ohio, at which time he was in charge of 425 men. He sold the pens based on selling a medium price line of the highest-quality pens which resulted in annual sales of about 50,000 pens, with the demand still increasing.

The fountain pen as it was known then was the product of a comparatively young industry. It was not many years before Johnson formed his company that fountain pens were looked upon as an expensive luxury for the businessman. As improvements were made and price dropped most men owned one or two pens, while there was at least one in the possession of nearly every housewife and school child. In the 1920's pen was different than the one furnished years ago, there was no place for the sputtering leaky pen. To command sales and respect it had to be airtight, smooth writing and be offered in colors other than a somber black. Johnson saw that in the future pens of larger size with brighter colors would be in demand. There was a trend away from small pens.

In his factory every effort was made to keep the product up to a high standard of excellence. The first operation in the manufacture the pen was finishing of the barrel and cap. Johnson's company bought the tubing in rough shape and conducted all its own finishing operations. A specially built machine smoothed and beveled the pen barrel. Buffing operations which impart a high finish followed the first operation. It may be explained in this connection that all pen barrels were made from rubber or celluloid. Trade names are applied to these substances by the various firms but the basis was invariably the same. Red and black pens are rubber, those finished in mottled green and similar colors are composition celluloid. Non-breakable qualities were given to the rubber tubes by special vulcanizing processes in the manufacture. An important feature of any pen was the feed. In the Johnson pen a double cone feed had been perfected to give an equalized flow of ink and prevent leaking. The feed is the part of the pen that is found under the nib. A narrow groove is cut in it, connecting with the ink sac, to feed the pen as it is being used. The groove comes to an end directly under a hole punched in the center of the nib. Air pressure on the space keeps ink from flowing out when the pen is not in use. Many patents have been issued on this feature, which is employed with variations and refinements by all pen companies.

In preparing the pen for assembly the major part of the work consisted of machine operations. A special die was used to cut the rectangular notch in the barrel for where the filling lever is placed. Another device was employed to cut a groove inside the barrel in which the lever is anchored. The cap In the fountain pen was scientifically built and an important feature in the completed pen. Inside the fountain pen cap is a kind of secondary holder. When the cap is placed on the pen the nib fits into this secondary holder, while the end of the barrel itself rests against the edge. Holes bored in the side of the caps kept moisture from condensing on the pen were it was gripped in the fingers. The nib sweated slightly in its air-tight compartment, leaving it ready to write as soon as it touched paper. Gold bands on caps were used for additional strength. They were pushed into specially cut grooves under pressure. Ink sacs were placed over the nozzle or pen section which was fitted into the barrel springs that depress the sac when the lever is actuated, are placed in the barrel, nibs adjusted and the pen was ready for use. Operations however, were by no means simple, and skilled labor was required to see that pens were assembled into harmonious holes. Following assembly the Johnson pens were put through 17 different tests, including an ink inspection, before being put out on the market. Throughout the whole process of manufacture extreme exactness and skill was required, for difference of a thousandth of an inch would often make a part too loose for assembly. Nibs used in fountain pens were tipped with iridium one of the few hard metals that has an affinity for gold.

In Rockford Johnson pens were sold only through dealers. The greater part of its marketing was done through agents, which there were 3400, chiefly in the South and Southwest, Canada, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and the Latin Islands where sales of the local concerns were concentrated. Before establishing his own business, Mr. Johnson was general superintendent of the Conklin pen company, Toledo Ohio, at which time he was in charge of 425 men. During his association with the pen business he had invented many features that are universally used today in fountain pens.

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