Nevadan at Work: CEO of space-pen company runs down-to-earth company


Fisher Space Pen Co. started the same year that Cary Fisher, current president and co-owner of the company, was born: 1948. Back then the company was headed by Paul C. Fisher under the name Fisher Pen Co. and based in Chicago.

The company became legendary for creating the first “Anti-Gravity” pen. NASA used the pen on Apollo 7 in 1968; since then, American astronauts have continued to use Fisher Space Pens.

“My father, being a storyteller, would say he (invented the pen) because he was thinking about the astronauts, but I know him better. He was just trying to create a better pen. He was doing it long before there were astronauts,” said Cary Fisher, co-owner and president of Fisher Space Pen Co.

In 1976 the company moved from Van Nuys, Calif., to a manufacturing plant in Boulder City.

Paul C. Fisher passed away in 2006, but his company continues with 65 employees under the co-ownership of Fisher and partner Dock Wong.

The company continues to thrive with customers such as REI, Amazon, Office Depot, Staples, the Smithsonian Museum, and the Johnson and Kennedy Space Centers.

According to Fisher, the space pen can write in any position, including at an angle and upside down, underwater and in extreme temperatures.

Question: How did your father create the Fisher Space Pen?

Answer: He started as a vendor to Reynolds Pen Co., who first introduced the ballpoint pen to the United States. My father saw how terrible the Reynolds’ pens were. Reynolds kind of challenged him to make it better, so that became a mission for him. After his dad had died, he came to him in a dream. He said if you put rosin in the ink, it would solve a lot of your problems. So he went to his chemist and his chemist tried that and said that was a bad idea. The chemist (then realized that he did not mean rosin, he meant the synthetic rubber resin), and that seemed to do the trick. Resin eliminated the oozing and reduced leaking.

Question: How does the company stay on top of new and innovating ideas?

Answer: We’re actually pretty slow on that front because we tend to be careful. We want to make something that stands for the same quality that we already have so that we can keep our reputation. It’s really hard to come up with something that no one else has already done.

Question: Many people are switching from pen and paper to writing on computers and smart phones. Has the digital era affected the company?

Answer: You think that would be a bigger problem than it seems to be. People will always want and need a pen. They may not use it as often, but that is probably to our advantage because you can leave one of our pens unattended and unused for a very long time. We estimate that our pens have a shelf life of 100 years.

Question: What challenges does your company face?

Answer: Sourcing American-made parts specifically geared toward the business like pen clips, caps and barrels. The pens are still 100 percent made in the United States, but when we try to do new models, tooling becomes more expensive here. It’s just getting harder and harder to source all of the parts in the United States.

Question: Besides astronauts, what other professions seek your pens?

Answer: Apparently they are very popular in the grocery business for people that have to write while using them in freezers or colder storage facilities. Pens are ideally suited for field use. They can write in adverse weather and adverse positions. We had a really nice letter from the military that had a Fisher space pen in his pocket that stopped a bullet and saved his life. It was probably a ricochet or something, because I don’t think a pen would’ve stopped it from penetrating through the skin.

Question: You were telling me that your patent expired years ago. Are you worried that someone else might profit off of your idea?

Answer: No, I know that other people can make them, but they don’t do it very well. Some people have tried it, but it’s harder than it looks. They don’t get the exceptional quality that we get.

Question: What movies or shows has the Fisher Space Pen been featured in?

Answer: Our pen was featured in a Seinfeld episode, although its name was left out. It was called an astronaut pen. It was also used in the Apollo 13 movie, but they didn’t give it any credit. We’ve been featured on How It’s Made and (other shows of that nature). Every time an episode airs, we get a little spike on our website.

Question: What is the hardest part about your job?

Answer: I’m pretty lucky; it’s a good job. I guess it would be juggling my time, and I also find personnel issues to be challenging. We consider our employees family. You have to be a really bad actor to get fired.

Question: How did the recession affect the company?

Answer: It slowed our growth, but we still continue to grow gradually despite the harsher environment. We’ve managed to maintain our profits and keep most of our key distribution as well.

Question: Do you do most of your business of selling pens in stores or online?

Answer: Most of our business is in retail; but as the world is going, a lot of it is coming online. I would guess maybe 20 percent of sales come from online.

Question: Has the advancement of technology changed your product?

Answer: We pretty much do things that same way we used to. I think the whole pen industry is still pretty much injection mold of plastics and screw machine parts. We’re not able to 3-D print a pen yet.

Question: What is your favorite career memory?

Answer: My wife and I got to go to the 40th anniversary event for the moon landing. We got to meet a lot of really great people. We went to a reception at the Johnson Space Center afterward and shared a beer with Neil Armstrong. It was very special.

Question: What is the company’s future plans?

Answer: We’re toying with more innovated products and maybe branching out into combination products. For example, instead of just having multiple color inks, maybe the pen will do more than one thing. We’re not planning on selling it or going public, or anything like that at this point.

Contact reporter Sandy Lopez at slopez@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4686.

 

Rules for posting comments

Comments posted below are from readers. In no way do they represent the view of Stephens Media LLC or this newspaper. This is a public forum. Read our guidelines for posting. If you believe that a commenter has not followed these guidelines, please click the FLAG icon next to the comment.