Saturday, September 15, 2018

the last book I ever read (Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein, excerpt five)

from Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein:

The Parker Pen Company was founded by a man whose life trajectory traced a perfect arc of the American Dream. George Safford Parker was born during the Civil War in rural Shullsburg, Wisconsin, sixty-eight miles west of Janesville. His family went back on his father’s side to a couple who had arrived in Connecticut from Dover, England, in 1632. Parker grew up on an Iowa farm, yearning to see the world. At the time he was coming of age, it was popular for young men with ambition and wanderlust to seek jobs as telegraph operates on railroads. He was a lanky nineteen-year-old when he arrived in Janesville with $55 for the tuition at the Valentine School of Telegraphy. Run by two brothers of that name, Valentine was the only telegraphy school in the nation that held contracts with railroad companies. Parker was an able student. When he graduated, he was pleased to be hired by the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, until he learned that his job would not be riding the rails that traversed the American West, but holed up in a station in a backwater of South Dakota. So when Richard Valentine asked Parker months later to return to the school as an instructor, he jumped at the chance. Back in Janesville, he taught young men just a few years younger than himself and, on the side, was an agent for an Ohio pen company, selling fountain pens that his students needed in their studies to transcribe telegraph code. The John Holland Co. pens tended to leak, and Parker developed a specialty in pen repair and alteration. “It will always be possible to make a better pen,” Parker said in 1888, the year he formed the Parker Pen Company. He was twenty-five. The following year, he secured his first pen patent and, five years after that, another patent for the writing instrument that would catapult Parker into a company with an international reputation—the Lucky Curve.

By 1900, his business had large contracts to sell pens to the federal government and a Main Street address for its four-story factory and sales office, before it eventually moved into a handsome, steel-frame factory along Court Street. As his business grew, so did a paternalistic generosity that Parker showered on his workers, typical of the welfare capitalism of the day intended to foster loyalty and ward off unrest. A clubhouse for employee parties. Camp Cheerio on the grounds of his summer house on the river’s bluff. A housing, Parkwood, for company executives. By the 1920s, he was patron of the Parker Pen Concert Band, purchasing instruments for musicians if they needed help and furnishing company vehicles to convey players to concerts. He instructed the personnel in charge of hiring Parker Pen’s factory and office workers to check with the band’s director about the kinds of musicians he could use; applicants who could fill a vacancy in the band were to be given hiring preference.

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