55 YEARS red star 1968-2023

In 1968, an American classic was born: the SKILCRAFT® U.S. Government Pen. For 55 years, the pen has been a workhorse for the federal government and U.S. military. This iconic product, adored by generations of government employees and their families, is more than just a pen; it’s a symbol of the strength of American manufacturing and the limitless capabilities of people who are blind.

NIB logo with Government Products Development Department Ball-Point Pen Program text

A National Treasure Is Born

The story of the pen began in 1965 when the General Services Administration (GSA) wrote a 16-page federal specifications document for a retractable ballpoint pen with a replaceable ink cartridge. After receiving a shipment of 13 million defective ballpoint pens from the original supplier in 1967, then-GSA Commissioner Heinz Abersfeller sought a new supplier and offered NIB the opportunity to produce the pens. On April 20, 1968, the SKILCRAFT U.S. Government Pen was added to the federal procurement list, making it available to federal purchasers through the AbilityOne® Program.

"The factory floor of the earliest Skilcraft Government Pen production

Early Production

Pen production provided employment for 133 employees who were blind working at four NIB associated nonprofit agencies across the country: Industries of the Blind in Greensboro, NC; Alphapointe in Kansas City, MO; Industries for the Blind in Milwaukee, WI; and Arizona Industries for the Blind in Phoenix, AZ (later transferred to the Lighthouse for the Blind in St. Louis, MO).

Close up of Brand new Skilcraft pens


SKILCRAFT U.S. Government Pens are produced and tested according to specifications outlined in a 16-page document written by GSA in 1965. Among dozens of other performance requirements, the pen must be capable of writing continuously for one mile in temperatures ranging from 40 degrees below zero to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Its original design has changed little over the decades. Click here for an infographic highlighting some of the pen’s specifications.

Photo of finished Government Pens

Paving the Way

The quality of the government pen shifted perceptions about the capabilities of people who are blind and NIB and its associated agencies. The project paved the way for the introduction of dozens of new SKILCRAFT products in the following decades, creating hundreds of new jobs for people who are blind. Today, more than 4,000 quality SKILCRAFT products are available to government customers through the AbilityOne® Program.

Han Hach working on the SKILCRAFT Pen

People Behind the SKILCRAFT Government Pen

More than 35 people who are blind manufacture nearly 4 million SKILCRAFT U.S. Government Pens each year. Pen production sustains meaningful employment for individuals like Han Hach, who assembles pens at Industries of the Blind in Greensboro, NC.

National Industries for the Blind

It is our mission to enhance the opportunities for economic and personal independence of persons who are blind, primarily through creating, sustaining and improving employment.