The story of Michaelís pens By Mel Strohminger Stylus Magazine April/May 2005 (Pages 80-83 with photos of the Arcangelo, Silencers, Choppers & Comets)

Michael Hochstetler is an inventor from the American tradition extending from Ben Franklin to Thomas Edison to Henry Ford. He personifies the old saying, Necessity is the mother of invention. As a Midwestern high school student, he developed calluses and hand strain from writing paper and taking notes with stick-thin ballpoint pens and pencils. To combat the effects of gripping a small writing instrument for a long period of time, he decided to develop a pen with a less fatiguing shape. By experimenting with whittling soap and wood, Michael developed a profile that feels comfortable in the hand. The spiral grip gives the fingers more surface contact; thus, gripping pressure is reduced and muscle fatigue is lessened.

For his efforts, Hochstetler applied for and received two U.S. Patents, (Nos. 5,228,794 and 5,332,324), for Ergonomic Writing Instruments. From these patents emerged the WORM pen, a plastic spiral stick ballpoint pen that was marketed by Wal-Mart and other large retailers. He packaged the WORM pen in his kitchen using old sections of computer printouts to wrap the boxes.

Using feedback from retailers and customers, Hochstetler, a former product manager from a large corporation, decided to go up-market in his pen construction and make his pens of durable machined aircraft-quality aluminum. He developed two lines of pens Ė the Fat Boy pens and the Arcangelo pens.

The Fat Boys:

The Fat Boy pens are machined from high quality aluminum and are cylindrical in shape with extra-wide barrels. They use a highly refined push-button mechanism imported from Germany. Each of these pens comes with a medium (.7mm) gel refill developed by the Parker Pen Company. The refill is very smooth, and the writing line is dark and unbroken. Writing with a gel refill is an experience only slightly less satisfying, in this authorís opinion, than writing with a fountain pen. The Parker-style refill is now a standard worldwide, so that one may use gel, ballpoint and rollerball refills from a number of different manufacturers inside Michaelís pens. This flexibility enables the consumer to choose from a variety of line widths, colors and writing experiences.

The Fat Boy pens come in a number of models, all illustrated and decorated with iconic American themes, and sell from $85 to $95. The Chopper (flames on the barrel), the World War II Fighters (Hellcat and P-51), the POW-MIA, (with the official logo), and the Comet (with comet-shaped grooves) are examples of popular Fat Boy pens that have his standard three rubber rings on their barrels for better gripping. Another series of Fat Boy pens have evenly spaced holes, instead of rubber rings, making the pen look like a silencer on a pistol. Not surprisingly, this is called the Silencer series.

The various models of Fat Boy pens come in a wide range of anodized aluminum colors, including blue, black, red, silver, copper and purple.

Arcangelo: The Grandfather

The Arcangelo is the grandfather of Michaelís pens in two ways. First, it harkens back to the ergonomic patented shape of the WORM, Michaelís original creation and, second, it is named after Michaelís Italian immigrant grandfather. This pen is shaped like a piece of modern sculpture. It seems off-center and looks like a not-so-successful attempt to make a large wood screw. However, once in the hand, it feels comfortable and natural Ė easier to grip than just about any shape of writing instrument. It takes about four hours to create one barrel, and it is largely a craft piece that is milled, sanded and polished by hand. It is manufactured using a miniaturized 4-axis CNC milling machine according to the specifications of the original patents. Because of the complexity and craftsmanship associated with the Arcangelo, its price is about twice as much as the Fat Boy pens, $195. It is available only in the brightly polished aluminum finish.

Michael Hochstetler is especially dedicated to developing a quality American pen. Since the earliest days of the first fountain pen produced by Waterman in the 1880ís, America has been a leader in the design and manufacture of writing instruments. Under economic pressure because of lower wages from global competition and corporate takeovers, the American pen industry has almost ceased to exist in terms of domestic manufacture and ownership. Fat Boy pens and other U.S. companies are attempting to re-create the American writing instrument by designing and manufacturing high-quality, innovative pieces. With the advent of the personal computer, people may actually write less, but individual expression through oneís handwriting using a finely crafted tool becomes even more precious. Michael is now working on new colors, new motifs, and new barrel accents for this Fat Boy line. Likewise, he is considering an Arcangelo fountain pen.

I spoke with James Rouse of Bertramís Inkwell in Baltimore to get his perspective as a retailer for Michaelís pens. Rouse says that the most distinctive thing about them is their high quality. As a testament to this, he notes that not one of Michaelís pens has been returned because of a manufacturing defect. He likes the innovative design and the fact that these high-quality pens are being produced in the United States. The brighter colors are more popular, and many initial purchasers return to augment their collection, says Rouse. (ARTICLE END)

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