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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The basic ballpoint pen stamped with "U.S. Government" is a workday staple for millions of military personnel and federal employees. The pen consists of seven different parts and meets 16 pages of military specifications, including that it be able to write for a mile with no fading or smudging and withstand extreme heat and cold.

Blind workers assemble the pens in factories in Wisconsin and North Carolina under the brand name Skilcraft as part of a 72-year-old legislative mandate. The original 16-page specifications for the pen are still in force: It must be able to write continuously for a mile and in temperatures up to 160 degrees and down to 40 degrees below zero.

It has been used in war zones and gas stations, and was designed to fit undetected into U.S. military uniforms. According to company lore, the pen can stand in for a two-inch fuse and comes in handy during emergency tracheotomies.

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