Interview with Paul Fisher Inventor of the SPACE PEN for NASA. Hearing Aid Wearer.
Fisher: Thank you Doug, it is a pleasure to meet you too.
HH/Beck: Mr Fisher, I know that you are a wonderfully creative man. Can you review a little of your histry for the readers?
Fisher: Sure. I am one of the pioneers in the ball pen business. I started trying to improve the ball pen in 1945 after World War II. I worked for Milton Reynolds in August, 1945. Mr. Reynolds introduced the ball pen to the world. He gave me one of the pens, and I worked with it for two days and then I reported back to him that the pens were no good at all, the basic principle wasn't any good, and that I wasn't going to be part of it, and I walked out. You see, my job was to perfect the ball pen. And it seemed that was not an accomplishable task!
HH/Beck: So you actually just left?
Fisher: Well, yes, pretty much, I saw it as dead end and I left. In October of that year, Mr. Reynolds introduced a pen that sold for $12.50 each, and the lines were three blocks long to get a new, fabulous ball pen! Of course, in the back of the store -- the lines were two blocks long with people that wanted refunds! The pens leaked everywhere. He made about 5 million dollars in 45 days on that terrible pen, and then he hired my best friend as the general manager, and his goal was to design a pen that could sell for $3.85.
HH/Beck: How did you get back involved with the ball pn?
Fisher: My friend called me. He said he was way over his head and asked if I could help. I didn't charge him anything, I designed the tooling and the pen, and we used surplus aluminum and made our own tooling too. Three months later my friend cornered me and he said This pen is pretty good, but we still need to perfct it, and I think you're the guy to do that. And I've been working on it ever since.
HH/Beck: And I should mention that a lot of your knowledge regarding the ball pen and how to make that work was based on your knowledge and work with ball bearings for airplane propellers.
Fisher: Yes. That's right, and that's how I learned about ball bearings, during World War II. In 1954, we finally got a good ink, and after that, we were able to lead the world in pen technology.
HH/Beck: Very good, and how did you start working with NASA?
Fisher: In 1965, NASA came to us and they said they had been using pencils in space flight, and they said that pencils were too dangerous to use in space during long flights because of the debris and the scrap. NASA asked Would you make us a pen? I said, I've been trying to make a good pen for 20 years and it cannot be done. They were not deterred....they said Mr. Fisher, you do more pen research than anyone else, and we'd like you to try again. Well, that made me think. Then about two nights later I had an interesting dream. My father had died about two years before, and in that dream, he came to me and said Paul, if you add a minute amount of rosin to the ink, that will stop the oozing. I told the chemist about that, and the chemist laughed! He said that won't work....he tried every type and quantity of rosin. Three months later he came back to me and he said I was right! He said he was trying to find a way to make rosin work, but then he realized that I meant resin! He used two percent resin, and it worked fine. Even with 140 pounds of air pressure behind it, it didn't leak. I called NASA and told them we could do it, and we developed the most valuable patent in all of the pen industry. And our pens have been used ever since in all of the manned space flights.
HH/Beck: And if I recall, there was an emergency repair in space that had to do with one of your pens?
Fisher: Yes, it was during the Apollo 11 flight. In 1969, the astronauts were on the moon, and I was in Vienna because my partner and I owned a pen manufacturing plant there. Anyway, what happened was that one of the astronauts' backpacks had collided with the plastic arming switch used to start the jets to blast off from the moon. The astronauts were in the lunar lander and they had already discarded the tools onto the lunar surface, they had closed and sealed the hatch and re-pressurized the space craft. They found out that they couldn't throw the arming switch! They had no tools and they couldn't figure out how to start the lander! They called the engineers back at Mission Control. Mission Control called Grumman Aircraft, and one of the electricians on Earth figured out that if he took the Fisher Space Pen (the Anti-Gravity 7, AG-7) which was in his pocket, and if he retracted the point, he was able to use the pen casing to throw the switch. The Engineer told this to Grumman, they called Mission Control, and Mission Control told the guys on the moon, and it worked! The story was all over Vienna, and the headlines said Vienna Pen Saves Moon Program. But when I got back to the USA, nobody had heard the story! So it was really an amazing occurrence, and the Space Pen was used to save the mission. Interestingly, NASA never told their negative stories to the press, and so I couldn't confirm the story for a while. But if you're old enough you'll recall that when the guys came back from the moon, they were quarantined.
HH/Beck: Yes, I remember that. The scientists wanted to make sure the astronauts were not carrying a virus or lunar germ back to Earth and they were in isolation for at least a week or two, maybe a month?
Fisher: That's right. Well, one of the public relations fellows at NASA, named Mr. McLeaish was a friend of mine, and he told me that the story was true, and that the Space Pen did save the mission.
HH/Beck: OK, well that is a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing that. Now please tell me, how did you hook-up with the Starkey Hearing Foundation?
Fisher: I'm 90 years old and for the last 30 years I couldn't go to movies, couldn't watch TV, and I couldn't hear at all. Then I met Bill Austin and he made me some hearing aids. My whole life changed. The hearing aids are so tiny nobody can tell I'm wearing them, and they make all the difference in the world.
HH/Beck: Frankly, I can't see them, and I'm looking! They really are tiny!
Fisher: Well, Bill Austin and Starkey have really changed my life. The hearing aids are one of the best things that ever happened to me. I can hear you, I can use the phone, and the quality of my life is enormously improved.
HH/Beck: Mr. Fisher, I think that says it all. You've been very generous with your time. Thank you so much!
Fisher: One last thing Doctor. I should also tell you the flaw in the Space Pen.
HH/Beck: Sure, please do.
Fisher: I've noticed that sometimes when I use it, it spells incorrectly!
HH/Beck: Thanks Mr. Fisher - you are a joy to know.
Fisher: My pleasure Dr. Beck. Please tell your readers to get their hearing tested and if they need to, get some hearing aids!
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