Paul Fisher is best known for inventing the space pen – that handy device writes upside down and made him a millionaire – but the entrepreneur also ran for president of the United States, twice.
Fisher died several weeks ago at the age of 93 in his adopted hometown of Boulder City, Nev., but for more than 20 years this innovative man housed his Fisher Space Pen Co. in the former Roos building here in Forest Park. From 1953 to 1976 Fisher manufactured a host of writing instruments here in the village that changed the industry, one of which is literally out of this world.
All pens rely on gravity to deliver ink to the tip, so the trick was to add gas pressure that would force the ink to flow in a zero-gravity environment. In 1965 Fisher and his plant manager Roger Kennedy worked on the engineering aspects of the pen while another employee, Herman Schub, developed the new ink. All three men have their name on the patent.
“I never met another like Paul Fisher,” Kennedy said. “He had good ideas and was a good engineer and salesman.”
The space pen was a huge success and today all astronauts and cosmonauts use Fisher’s creation. It replaced the bullet pen as the company’s bestseller.
Fisher also witnessed the birth of the ballpoint pen. For those too young to remember, the fountain pen was the predecessor of the ballpoint. Fountain pens had many shortcomings. Their ink cartridges had to be frequently replaced and they tended to leak badly.
In 1945, Milton Reynolds invented the ballpoint. It was a sensation, with customers lined up for blocks to purchase the prototype pen at Gimbel’s in New York. Unfortunately, the line of people later returning the pens was almost as long. The first ballpoint was so poorly designed that Reynolds called in Fisher to perfect it. It turned into a life-long career.
His first breakthrough was the bullet pen, which was designed to easily fit inside a man’s pocket or a woman’s purse. Its sleek design earned the pen its own exhibit at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, as an example of industrial art.
In 1948, Reynolds stopped making ballpoints and Fisher founded his pen company in Chicago. The plant was located on Waveland Avenue, just east of Wrigley Field. In 1953, Fisher Pen Company moved to the building that had been vacated by the Roos Co.
Kennedy came on board at that time to manage the plant.
During Kennedy’s 15-year tenure, the company’s big seller was Fisher’s patented universal refill for ballpoint pens, Kennedy said. A staff of more than 40 workers also manufactured an office pen, similar to the Bic. Fisher was such a hands-on manager that he slept in a room at the plant, Kennedy said.
Aside from improving pens, Fisher wanted to improve society, according to the inventor’s son Cary Fisher.
“My father wanted to create a change for the better in everyone’s lives,” Cary Fisher told the Las Vegas Sun in October, shortly after his father’s death. “His major economic approach was to tax assets instead of income.”
Fisher favored a 4 or 5 percent tax on “concentrations of wealth” to relieve the burden on the middle class and the working poor. He took his message to the voters in 1960. Fisher finished just behind John F. Kennedy in the New Hampshire presidential primary that year.
He sought the White House office again in 1992.
Fisher maintained friendly relations with the federal government and in 1965 NASA asked him to invent a pen that could be used in the extreme temperatures and weightlessness of space.
“The astronauts were writing with pencils,” Kennedy recalled. “So, we worked on developing the Space Pen.”
Kennedy left Fisher in 1970 but didn’t move far away. He bought the Luck Envelope Co. and moved it into the Roos Building right under Fisher, Kennedy said. In 1976, Fisher relocated from Forest Park to Boulder City, but Kennedy continued to keep up with its founder.
“I went out to Boulder City yearly to visit Paul,” Kennedy said. “He had an apartment above the plant, just like in Forest Park.”