WILLIAM A. WELTY, the inventor and patentee of Welty's fountain pen and now a resident of Waterloo, was born in Ohio in 1873 and comes of German and Scotch-Irish parentage. In early boyhood he acquired an excellent education and at all times during his life has been much inclined to mechanical investigation, even as a boy having equipped a workshop in his own home. He sold books in order to acquire the means that would enable him to pursue a college education and in early life he was also elected by his church as financial secretary of the Ashland University at Ashland, Ohio, and during his incumbency in that office he cleared the university of indebtedness. While traveling throughout the United States in order to raise funds for the school he gained an unusual insight into business affairs which fitted him for the commercial career upon which he afterward entered.
In 1903 Mr. Welty became connected with the firm of Matt Parrott & Sons as blank book salesman and auditor, at which time he took up the sale of fountain pens as a side line. Continued complaints of dealers and users of leaking, blotting and dropping convinced him that something very essential had been missed in pen construction. The public declared that fountain pens never would be a success. Careful investigation disclosed that while hundreds of more or less practical ideas had been used, particularly as to the methods of filling, etc., that absolutely nothing had been done which would improve the feeding of the ink -- right where the real trouble lay.
The fountain pen industry at that time was only twenty-one years old and most of the factories had been going ahead on the old plug feed idea, taking it for granted that if any improvements could be made, Paul E. Wirt, the original manufacturer, or one of the older organizations, would make them. Some of these manufacturers knew that most of the dropping and leaking was due to a lack of proper air entrance and were trying various ways to control this. These facts were Mr. Welty's inspiration. While others hesitated he pondered, and the neck of a bottle suddenly occurred to him. That bubble of air must certainly go up the single feed channel in a fountain pen, as they were then constructed, at an angle to empty it, the flow is less spasmodic than if held straight upside down. Right here dawned the great idea of the air vent in the feed and he at once took the plug feed out of one of his samples and set to work with a pocket knife and file and roughly cut out a model. This worked better and on showing it to several dealers they urged him to obtain a patent, for which he applied December 6, 1904, and which was granted November 7, 1905. To reach a further degree of feed perfection he conceived the idea of the "side or sub ducts," which was patented on October 30, 1906.
During this time Mr. Welty was still selling blank books and enjoying a nice sale of his pens, which were made for him by a manufacturer in Janesville, Wisconsin. Noting the growing demand for self fillers, his inventive genius again showed in the cam locking ring style (now known as the Wawco), which he also patented in 1906. The increased popularity of the product led him, in March of that year, to install a small plant and he began making his own product in the rear of a little office supply store. A one-thousand-dollar order from a Minneapolis jobber was a great encouragement, and as fast as he could turn them out, Mr. Welty went out and sold more, while an expert pen maker was also hired to help in the manufacture. A little advertising in trade journals and enthusiasm of his friends aroused the fear of a then established manufactuer of self fillers in Toledo, Ohio, who thought to intimidate Mr. Welty by infringement proceedings, but the latter won. While this case was pending the idea came to do away with the locking ring and the present interlocking self filler patent was granted March 30, 1909. The Toledo firm then interviewed him with a view of purchasing this patent, but he refused. They then made a very flattering offer to take all his output of this holder equipped with the Welty feed, which he also declined, as he was firmly convinced that he had an article of real merit and that its future was assured. His ambition was aroused to see his product in not only national but international demand. Patents had by now been granted him in foreign countries.
His friends stood loyally by him. During an international Bible conference of the Presbyterian church at Winona Lake, Indiana, in August, 1907, of which a personal friend, Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman, an evangelist, is director, Dr. Chapman from the platform recommended the Welty pen to an assembly of five thousand ministers and as a result over six hundred dollars' worth were sold at retail there. Mr. Blessing, manager of the Presbyterian board of publication, also advertised the Welty pen in his book catalogues and bulletins, thus assisting in the publicity of "The Pen With Merit." Over three hundred traveling men with headquarters in Waterloo became enthusiastic boosters of Welty pens, a home product, and orders were received from various quarters through their influence. Thus the business grew.
All this time Mr. Welty was engaged in selling at retail adding machines, typewriters, office supplies, etc., using the profits to forward the pride of his life -- the Welty fountain pen. About this time the real battles developed. The Welty "New Idea" pen was rapidly growing in favor and orders could not be filled owing to lack of capital for rough stock and new machinery. A silent partner who advanced some cash did not help much, because he was inactive yet was getting most of the profits. A new partnership was formed with an active partner which continued for one year. Again Mr. Welty assumed full control of the business by purchase. Another time local capitalists offered to incorporate with him with a paid up capital of one hundred thousand dollars and let Mr. Welty sell the goods. Here the unfortunate experience of Roy Conklin, who several years before had been thus displaced in Toledo, Ohio, stood as an example to Mr. Welty and he declined, being determined to reap the benefits of the product of his own brain. Handicapped even to the extent of at times returning money sent in for goods, he still plugged along, showing a tenacity of purpose and business ability seldom seen in an inventor. His unusual selling ability is demonstrated by the fact that all this time he had been doing all his own selling and helping in the shop between trips, selling all he could get money enough to manufacture, and still the business kept on growing. Finally came a time when he found it a physical impossibility to handle both the inside and outside business and offered William T. Fitzpatrick, who was enjoying a nice business in the selling of Welty pens in Montana, a third interest, which the latter accepted. The partnership thus resulting was so harmonious and the continued expansion of the business so rapid that the William A. Welty Company was incorporated in March, 1913, and with a further addition of capital and increased manufacturing and marketing facilities is enjoying the steady, consistent growth which merit always wins. Waterloo has every reason to be proud of the enterprise which has here been established but prouder still of the man whose ability and indomitable spirit has made it possible.
From page 120 of John C. Hartman's History of Black Hawk County, Iowa, and its people, Volume II.
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