Trivia

Hard

The Ubiquitous Black Pens Found At Post Office Buildings Are Manufactured By?

Midwestern School Children
Federal Prisoners
Visually Impaired Workers
Disabled Veterans
A pair of Skilcraft ink pens.
Skilcraft/AbilityOne

Answer: Visually Impaired Workers

If you live in the U.S., there’s a very good chance that you’ve handled one of these pens without ever realizing there was an interesting backstory attached to them. Found in thousands of Post Offices, various Federal offices, and military bases across the country, the Skilcraft pen is an ubiquitous fixture in government institutions of all sizes.

The pens are produced, as the stamp on the barrel implies, by the Skilcraft corporation which also makes many other products such as office supplies, janitorial equipment, uniforms, and hospital supplies. The company (originally known as the National Industries for the Blind, or NIB for short) was founded in 1938 as a result of the Wagner-O’Day Act that directed the government to purchase products manufactured by blind Americans. To this day, Skilcraft pens are still made by blind and visually impaired Americans at factories in Wisconsin and North Carolina.

The design of the pen reflects the requirements the government set for standard issue pens to serve civilian and military workers. The pen has to withstand extreme temperatures, provide approximately a linear mile of written ink before needing a refill, the ink has to resist water exposure for up to 48 hours, and—perhaps the most immediately distinct feature, the pen can only be 5 1/8″ long. The last feature was a military requirement so that the pen was short enough to completely fit inside the breast pockets of military uniforms to prevent sunlight from reflecting off the metallic components of the pen and giving away the positions of soldiers.

To date, the company still produces millions of pens per year and there’s a good chance that the next time you sign for a package at your local Post Office or fill out some Social Security paperwork, you’ll do so with a Skilcraft pen.

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