Pen History, 1850’s: The Washington Medallion Pen Company, Part 1

Introduction

We’ve covered the history of steel pens in the US from the early days up through the 1840’s. The 1850’s is when we see the beginnings of the major companies that dominate the US pen industry for the next 70 years, and the opening scenes of the Golden Age of steel pen production in the US.

The first of these companies I will cover, the Washington Medallion Pen Company, was dominate for a shorter time, but they were very influential in their advertising as well as their emphasis on being an American company, distinct from the British imports which were flooding the market at the time.

The Washington Medallion Pen Company is also important to the history of the US steel pen industry because of the people who worked there and the various legal fights which impacted and were impacted by some of the most important figures in writing implements in the US, including Esterbrook, Harrison & Bradford, and even Eberhard Faber.

I’m going to start with a brief overview and summary of the company’s story. I will then create separate entries for each of the major periods of the company’s history, as well as show examples of their important ads, and touch upon some of the key lawsuits which impacted the direction of the industry.

Overview

In 1855 some merchants from the City of New York, including Albert Granger, former owner of a dry goods establishment, and Albert L. Eastman, an importer of silks and fancy goods merchant, formed the American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company. Eastman was the President and Granger was the Secretary.

On April 15, 1856, Albert Granger is granted a design patent for a steel pen that includes an embossed medallion showing the head of George Washington. The Washington Medallion Pen Company was incorporated in New York on 10 February 1857. The Washington Medallion Pen was popular, and was sold into the 1880’s. This was the first long-term, successful, pen company in the US with a national market.

In 1856 we are also introduced for the first time to two important figures in the history of American steel pens: George Harrison and George Bradford. In the NYC directory for 1856/57, these two young men are listed as toolmakers and live in the same boarding house on 141 W. 36th ST., just blocks from where their employer, The American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company was located.

Harrison and Bradford were both from Birmingham, both trained in the pen factories there. Whether they were brought by Eastman and Granger, or they came and were recruited by the same, we’ll never know. What we do know is that these two young, trained toolmakers were soon followed by another group of experienced, British pen makers. These men, including John Turner, helped found the greatest US steel pen manufacturer, Esterbrook, just a few years later (1860) in Philadelphia. The pattern of importing experienced British tool makers and pen manufacturers, which helped make Esterbrook so successful, was originally set by The Washington Medallion Pen Company.

Washington Medallion’s early years are marked by great self-promotion and advertising, a shameless appeal to nationalism, and financial and legal difficulties. Its middle years see a great deal of lawsuits and legal trouble, which eventually settles down into a gradual dissipating into relative obscurity while still producing pens.

Eastman leaves the company sometime in the middle period and continues with his importing, silk and fancy goods business until his death in 1891. Granger stays with the company until around 1870. He lives on in retirement until passing away in 1909.

Harrison and Bradford continue to exert a great influence on the pen industry until their deaths later in the century: both founding their own company, Harrison & Bradford, then later splitting up to help found the second largest pen company in the US (Turner & Harrison), as well as starting up the pen operations for another major manufacturer, Miller Brothers. More on their story later, but first lets look at the early years of the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

Next up: The Early Years: 1855-1860