Roadtrip Day 1: Getting It In Writing

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Good news! Our #MadeInAmerica is off and running! And our first American-made Factory is Garland Pen, which is located right here in Rhode Island.

It’s good news because, although we had a recent car rental catastrophe, for this short RI jaunt we could just take our own cars.

As we drove up to Garland we immediately sensed a business that was preserving a manufacturing legacy. It’s in a 100+ year old, two-story red brick building – an old mill for sure -- with the Pawtuxet River running along its right side.

Rick met us at the door and was glad to show Marj and I around.

We saw the eighty steps it takes to construct a jewelry-quality, twist-top metal pen. Walked through the steps to add a promotional message to the pen’s top and protect it with an epoxy covering; and then laser-etch a personalization into the pen’s metallic barrel.

We smelled the machine oil that must have permeated into the walls over the decades. The floors were the wide, varnished planks that probably came with the original building and creeked a bit as we passed from one big room to another.


tool maker making writing instruments

We met Sam who machined the barrels and added the precision, knurled threading. And Frank, the tool maker who made sure the equipment performed day after day. We met Anita, who buffed the components so that each of the pen’s five or so main components gleamed and were smooth to the touch.

There’s even a station to match the pen’s bottom barrel with an appropriate top barrel. You see, many of Garland’s products come in a choice of dozens of shiny or matte colors. And because tops and bottoms are produced separately, there could be tiny variations when barrels are created. So it takes someone with a skilled eye, and lots of patience, to perform all the barrel match-making.

buffing pen barrels

Like lots of American manufacturers, Garland has far fewer working now than in it did twenty years ago. So they’ve had to become more agile: most of its workers can move around the factory and handle parts of the manufacturing process where they’re most needed.

In the end, and when considering its price -- most are $10- $15 -- I was really astounded by the shear number of steps it took to create a Garland Pen. Most of these steps are still accomplished by folks who are using the classic skills and equipment that made the earliest Garland Pens fifty years ago. And many who work in today’s Garland worked there years ago, or had family that worked years before them.

What makes the Garland Pen special is its incredibly smooth twist-action mechanism that ‘opens’ and ‘closes’ the pen. And Garland’s smooth writing ballpoint or roller ball writing tip.

It’s somewhat similar to the Cross Pen. Cross was once made in the USA -- in nearby Lincoln, Rhode Island, in fact. But Cross, like most other nice pens, are now manufactured in Asia.

What I like most about a Garland pen is how it’s a bit wider than most pens, making it easy to grip, and perfectly weighted to feel great and work effortlessly as you write. Other pens, even the ritzy Cross or Mont Blanc, just don’t have the same feel at all.

The trip to Garland shows us that you don’t have to go to Europe or Asia for skilled manufacturing. You could go to a small mill building in Coventry, Rhode Island and see a group of first-class machinists and artisans crafting beautiful, precision-engineered pens with pride.

I’d say that’s a great way to start our #MadeInAmerica journey.

Thank you, Garland!


Post Script > How Garland Pens Have Found Their Niche

Finally, although it’s true that people aren’t writing so much anymore, this could be a plus for Garland.

You see, writing has evolved into something special, whether its signing a contract, writing a PS on a letter, or adding an entry into a personal journal. So it befits these special times to use a great writing instrument – like a Garland.

With a company logo imprinted on top, the Garland pen makes a great promotional item because it will be used for months or years (it has a lifetime warranty…) promoting that company message every time it’s used. What’s a better closing gift from a Real Estate Agent than the personalized Garland pen used to sign the deal?

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