Me, Bill Green
In the year 2014 the Sanford Sharpie will celebrate its 50th anniversary. And it is as popular today as it ever had been. The success of this product is a story worth telling. It is the story of a small group of American businessmen who took an idea for a new product and turned it into a piece of Americana. Today, just about every American who is old enough to have used a traditional Sanford Sharpie has done so. And the product shows no indication of reaching the declining portion of its product life.
I was just a kid out of college when I joined what was then Sanford Ink Company. When I interviewed for the job, Keith Beal, the R&D Director and my immediate supervisor, gave me a tour of the manufacturing area and made it a point stop at a small table where a group of about 3 or 4 assemblers were manually placing Sharpie “reservoirs” into Sharpie “barrels”, fitting the “ferrule” into place, spin welding the assembly, adding the ink with a foot operated automatic syringe, setting the tip and cap in place, and the placing the finished marker in a box that was partitioned to hold 12 rows of 12 Sharpies – one gross of product. “This”, Keith told me, “is the Sharpie Marker.
I began experimenting with ink formulations for the Sharpie Marker as soon as I began my career with the company. Keith Beal had the assignment of developing a tip for the Sharpie that could be manufactured at Sanford, and therefore give the product an advantage over any future competition. Keith was of the opinion that what the Sharpie really needed was better ink formulations, and for that reason he assigned to me an open ended project to study and develop alternative ink formulations specific to the Sharpie line. Keith’s tip development project was canceled soon after I was hired and Keith left the company. This made the ink formulation project entirely my own. I continued it informally.
Charlie Lofgren made it a policy to know who his competition was and how the competition performed compared the Sanford products. For this reason Sanford collected samples of all the competitive writing and marking products available in the market and sent them to the lab. We analyzed each product to see how it was made, and tested it for performance compared to a similar Sanford product. It was the lab’s job to make sure Sanford’s products would outperform any competitive product on the market, making improvements in whatever area was necessary to maintain an advantage in the market place. These tests were repeated annually and made certain that all information that was supplied to the sales staff as they competed for business was both current and positive in favor of Sanford.
One of the important functions of the sales staff was to watch for new products introduced by the competition. When they encountered a new product they immediately purchased samples and sent them to lab for the routine product review. This information, when complete, was added to the company database that was made available to all salesmen. This is what happened when one of Sanford’s largest competitors introduced a new product. Suddenly there was a new Papermate felt tip marker on the market that would be in competition with Sanford’s felt tip markers.
When samples arrived at Sanford Charlie took one look at them and called an emergency, drop-everything-and-come-right-now meeting with the laboratory. But it wasn’t the threat to the felt tip marker business that had Charlie both excited and worried, it was the threat to the Sharpie business.
When ordered to report immediately to the conference room I grabbed my notebook and went as ordered with no idea what was happening. Francis Gilbert, Roosevelt Redd and I were there along with the other the Vice President of Sales, Bob Bergdall and the veteran sales manager for the Chicago area, Frank Moore. Charlie went directly to the point. “Papermate has just introduced a felt tip marker to compete with our #500, #1000 and #1500 markers”, he said, and he laid out on the conference table samples for us to examine. “They use molded plastic construction while we have aluminum. We have a better construction and a more rugged product”.
Charlie paused while we passed the samples around. After a few minutes during which we made ourselves familiar with this new product, Charlie continued. “You will notice their inks have a less objectionable order than our markers. And they have stronger, cleaner colors”. Again he gave us a brief moment to continue our examination.
Then Charlie dropped his bombshell statement. “I’m not too concerned about how much of our felt tip marker market they will be able to capture with this product. Here is what I am worried about. If they were to introduce a fine tip marker to compete with Sharpie, they would have a much better product than ours because they will have much better inks. This is serious. This is as serious as anything that has ever happened at Sanford. Sharpie is the future of our company. If we don’t come up with a better product immediately, we could lose our company. All Papermate has to do is introduce a fine point marker with these inks, and our Sharpie is history”.
Not even Francis Gilbert knew at that time that I had for a long time been looking at ways to improve the Sharpie inks. The Sharpieat that time used the same as used in the felt tip markers. And they worked fine in that product. But the fine tip marker was used in offices and homes, not in warehouses and lumber yards. The strong chemical order was an issue in the Sharpie part of the market. On glass and other non porous surfaces the sharpie laid down so little ink that the colors looked weak. I knew exactly why Charlie was worried, and already had ideas on how to solve the problems. Ideas that I kept to myself at this meeting.
“It’s not like you have to work in the dark”, Charlie said. “You can analyze their inks. If you can copy their formulas that will give us all we need to stay ahead of them, because we are already established in the market. So how much time do you need to get us some better inks, Francis”?
As Francis Gilbert was giving some thought to his answer I interrupted and commented, “Papermate is using a polyolefin plastic for their barrels. Sharpie is molded with nylon. My quick guess is that the Papermate inks would not be compatible with nylon barrels and with what we are now using for the ink reservoirs”. Then I asked, “Do we have to work only with our current components, or can we get some different reservoirs and Sharpie barrels molded with different plastics?
“Bill is right” Francis added. “I don’t think these inks would work with the Sharpie components that we have. But I think I can get some alternative materials in here in less than two weeks”.
I added, “That’s about what I will need to collect samples of dyes and solvents for experimentation. But I can begin right away with the initial work”.
“Use whatever materials and components you want”, Charlie responded. “But you have to act immediately. Now how long do you need”?
Knowing, as I did, of my head start on this project, I felt confident when I responded, “Give me four weeks”.
Charlie fired back, “I’ll give you three”. Then turning to Moore and Bergdall he added, “And you guys have one week to show their samples to our best customers and get their reactions. After that you have one day to prepare your report and make a recommendations for the company”.
There was nothing more to be discussed. The only thing left to be said was, “Yes Sir”! I was not officially the lab director, but Redd and I were the senior members of the lab, and Roosevelt spent much of his time supervising the ink production area. I was therefore designated to manage the development work on this crash project. When we returned to the lab and then I took Redd aside. He knew what Francis and Charlie did not. He knew I had worked on Sharpie formulations on my own for a long time. I told Redd that I felt that I had a very good ink base ready to go. We would make all of the colors except black from the same ink base. We would just vary the dye selection. I then told him that I wanted him to formulate the red and blue because they were the most important colors after black. I took black for myself because not only was it the biggest seller, but it was by far the most difficult to formulate. The other colors, green, purple, orange, brown, and yellow were less important and much easier to achieve. Those assignments would go to the technicians under my supervision.
Moments later Francis Gilbert joined me in the lab and we held an initial planning session. We pulled literature from our solvent and dye suppliers and started making selections of samples to order. Other materials were also required for making marker inks, and together we drew up an exhaustive list of samples to be ordered. Before the day was over I had all samples on order with instruction that they be expedited. And Roosevelt Redd had a large bath of generic ink base prepared to share with the technicians as each worked on his / her color assignment.
Francis Gilbert amazed me with his knowledge of ink chemistry. Many of his initial suggestions fit right in with my beginning formulations and initial progress was rapid. As the samples began arriving we quickly completed a line of colors for Sharpie that competed well with the Papermate markers. Black, however, was a different matter. To be a strong black color the ink had to have a very high concentration of dye. This caused problems with adhesion and limited the time that the marker could be left uncapped before the marker dried out. It also restricted the flow. For each black ink experiment I prepared an assortment of formula variations. All of these experimental samples would be filled into markers and their initial properties tested. Francis and I would analyze the test results and then plan another round of experiments.
I could conclude two rounds of experiments in the morning, and two on the afternoon. Francis would come to the lab at the end of each round to follow my progress and make suggestion. Initially his knowledge of ink chemistry was very useful. As the project wore on there was less and less that he could contribute. More and more our progress depended on my ability to analyze data and make adjustments, and my ability to discover new ways to achieve results. Finally we reached a point when Francis was satisfied and he gave approval to begin preparing samples for the sales demonstration. We had met our goal of three weeks.
One week later all of the managers in Sales and Assembly as well as Francis Gilbert and me met with Charlie in the conference room. Frank Moore stood up in front of the group and stood by a paper easel. He pulled out a Sharpie, one of my samples no doubt, and began to list the recommendations he had for the company. I was totally unprepared for what was to happen next. I had assumed that, if they liked my version of the Sharpie well enough, they would recommend a new product to be introduced on a small scale. Or perhaps they would release my version of Sharpie in selected locations to see how well it was received. After all, the sharpie was the future of the company, right? One does not get careless with the future of the company.
Frank had a long list of recommendations, but he started right at the heart of the matter. “As of today”, he said, “all Sharpie as it has been produced will stop, and from today forward Sharpie will be produced only with Bill’s inks”.
I almost fell off my chair. I stopped him before he could say another word. “Frank! Are you saying that the original Sharpie will never be made again”?
“Well, not exactly, Bill. I do have another recommendation if you will give me a chance to get there. We have some industrial customers who have very specific needs for which the original Sharpie seems to work better. My second recommendation is that while the standard #3000 Sharpie will be made with your ink, Bill, we will introduce a new product. We will market a #3200 Sharpie Litho Pen for these specific customers. The new product will simply be the old product with a new number. The original Sharpie, will therefore still be part of the product line. But it will have a new number and be sold as a specialty product”.
Frank went on to detail further plans to release a new line of felt tip markers that, like the Papermate competition, would use plastic molded barrels and use my new Sharpie inks. In this way Sanford was hoping to block the Papermate entry into the marker market, and hoped that if their success could be limited, they would never enter the fine tip market that would put them into direct competition with Sharpie. Whether this was a successful strategy, or if Papermate had other reasons for their decisions, no one will ever know. But Papermate never did introduce a product to compete with Sharpie. And others who have tried have failed to achieve any worthwhile measure of success.
The Sharpie as I developed it has been sold essentially unchanged for these many years since that meeting. There have been some changes, of course, as suppliers drop old products and develop new ones. One of the biggest improvements to my Sharpie formulations came just as I was leaving the company. I used dye suppliers from both the USA and Europe, but they only supplied dyes that were developed for uses other than marker inks. Commercial dyes were manufactured for paper, leather, plastics, food, fabric, cosmetics and other large uses. But the marker industry was too small for the dye industry to make special products until the Japanese decided to get involved. What a difference. The Japanese would visit me and ask what products that I was making needed improvements. I might reply, for example, that I was not happy with my red ink because it faded to quickly when exposed to sunlight. They would disappear and for several months they would be as quiet as a mouse. And then they would show up with a sample for me to evaluate. Typically, it would be everything I had asked them for. I have no doubt today that the Sharpie inks are made with Japanese dyes developed specifically for marker inks.
This led to one of my final light hearted moments at Sanford. A Japanese company had made the decision to capture the marker ink dye business, and they went about it in a typical Japanese way. They brought gifts with their dye samples, and offered other courtesies. On this occasion I was meeting with one of their company executives. Other senior members of Sanford’s management were present when at the conclusion of the meeting the Japanese executive said, in very broken English, that his company also owned some very fine Japanese restaurant in Manhattan. And he told us that if we were ever in New York we should let him know, and he would host us at his restaurant on 5th street. And then he added with all sincerity, that if the event that we would bring our wives with us, he would take us to his restaurant on 15th street instead.
All of instantly broke out laughing. No, his 5th Avenue restaurant was not a sex club. The Japanese simply had different protocol for an all male dinner that for a couples dinner. The poor man sat there puzzled at out laughter before we were able to make him realize how that sounded to a bunch of American men.
I doubt the original Sharpie, later to be called the Sharpie Litho Pen, has survived. But from that point on Sharpie sales took off and became an American business success story. It is amusing to me that as brilliant as Charlie was in his assessment of the Sharpie, he had called one thing completely wrong. In the beginning of the Sharpie Story, Charlie had hired Keith Beal to develop a proprietary tip for the product. He felt that was Sharpie’s biggest need. In the end, when I had finished with my redevelopment of the product, the tip was the only component that that I kept from the original product.
Please take a minute to enjoy some of my favorint memories from my Shapie days that follow.
There was a company in France named Baignol & Farjon, or B&F for short, who manufactured similar products to Sanford. They were not competitors, however, since they sold to a different market. B&F sold exclusively in France while Sanford had no distribution there. Another major difference between the two companies was that B&F did not maintain a research lab. Instead they contracted with Sanford for their product development, and this led to an annual visit by the B&F’s top executive, Mr. Raymond Farjon. Typically he was accompanied on his visits by Jacque Farce, the Technical Director of the company. Jacque spoke good enough English to be the interpreter for the technical discussions. During their visits, therefore, Jacque and I became very well acquainted.
While I only met with these gentlemen once a year, I routinely throughout the year worked on formulations for their new product development. For the event that I am recalling here I had been working on a series of ink formulas that promised them considerable new business in the public school system in France. The stakes were high and the pressure intense. I did a lot of work in preparation of their next visit, and upon their arrival there were a lot of last minute product improvements that would required long hard days and late nights.
On one of those long days I was working diligently on one of their last minute requests. It was almost quitting time when my phone rant. It was Francis Gilbert. “Bill”, he said, “Mr. Lofgren is taking Jaque and Raymond out to dinner tonight, and he would like you to join them”.
My immediate reaction was to find an excuse that would get me out of this, but, of course, when the president asks you to join him for dinner, that’s what you do. So I gave my polite acceptance, called Ginny to let her know where I was going. I then went back to the bench and kept working while waiting for the next telephone call.
The call finally came, and I went to the front office more than a little apprehensive about how the evening was going to go. I was out of my league and I knew it. I didn’t know if I should join in the conversations or stay out of the way. I always wore a jacket and tie to work, but everyone else was in full dress suits. I didn’t know if I was dressed appropriately enough, or if I would embarrass everyone. Should I be careful not to order something too expensive, or did that even matter? My mind was full of questions as we got into Charlie’s Cadillac. One thing I knew for sure was that I was headed for the back seat, and was relieved that Francis Gilbert was joining me there. As we started for downtown Chicago, Francis leaned over and explained to me that Charlie belonged to a private club, and that was where we would be dining tonight. I didn’t even know that Charlie belonged to a private club. And I couldn’t begin to guess what it was going to be like.
When we arrived I discovered that this club, whatever its name, was in the Sears Tower, which was at that time the tallest building in the country. Charlie handed the keys to the parking attendant, and then we went to an elevator that was not open to the public. With a clearance code of some sort he gained entrance, and soon we were on our way to the top, or near the top, of the tower.
Getting off the elevator we were greeted by a receptionist who was intent upon treating us like royalty. I was a little uncomfortable with that, but it felt good just the same. Our host then led us to our table, and two things impressed me at once. First of all, everything was plush, plush, plush! I had never been in a place like that before. The other thing that surprised me was that, with the exception of one or two other small parties, we had the whole place to ourselves. How in the world they could stay in business with only a handful of customers seemed impossible unless ….. unless they charged an AWFUL lot of money for membership.
There was a violinist playing softly in a corner. I wondered what he would do if I requested Turkey In The Straw , but decided against that. Then before we could set down Francis Gilbert said, “Come over here Bill, and look at this”. He led me to the side of the room with a outside wall, and it did not have a simple window. The whole wall was a window! We stood there next to this window-wall and looked down on the city lights of Chicago. I was dumbfounded. I had never seen anything like that before. I recall Francis and I sorting out the different major streets of that great, sprawling city, and watching as tiny bugs with headlights slowly moved in some sort of organized procession. We watched this for a few minutes, and then walked back to the table that had been made ready for us. Raymond and Charlie were engaging in friendly, casual conversation with Jacque doing the translating.
I wish the reader to please realize just how new this was for me. I was only a few years removed from when I drove all night to claim a job in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, worked all day after getting there, and then celebrated with one of the first restaurant meals I had ever had. That same year a girl I dated briefly in Sioux Falls named Micki Brooks had once invited me to her house for a homemade pizza. I had accepted the invitation, but upon seeing a pizza for the first time had to tell her, “I’m sorry, but I can’t eat that”. I had been raised on friend chicken and gravy, fresh garden vegetables and fruits in the summer and canned garden vegetable and fruits in the winter. Pizza? Impossible!
Dear Micki, one of the prettiest girls is all of South Dakota and most wonderful things that ever happened to this poor boy out of rural Iowa. I would give a lot to be able to apologize to her once again for turning down her pizza. In this and many other ways I must have appeared a complete country clod, yet she overlooked all of those things and treated me with respect. She even went with me to a Johnny Cash concert when country wasn’t cool. I will always be grateful to her for helping me start my transition into a world I never even knew existed. I hope she is somewhere nice today surrounded by a large and loving family, and enjoying the richest of God’s blessings.
On only one occasion had I ever been in a restaurant anything close to what I was experiencing in Charlie’s private club that night in Chicago. On our honeymoon only two years before joining Sanford Ginny and I had traveled to Kansas City and tried to find the best steakhouse in town. The locals sent us to a place called The Golden Ox. We pulled into the parking lot, and while fine gentlemen accompanying ladies in fur coats were walking into the restaurant we were looking for a place with a good slope to park our Chevy. After our meal we needed to push the car to get it started, and it’s easiest to push a car downhill.
Inside the Golden Ox and halfway through the evening Ginny excused herself to use the bathroom. When she returned she looked concerned and puzzled. “Something strange just happened” she told me. And I asked her to explain.
“Well”, she said, “when I went into the ladies room there was this nice looking black girl. And she was just standing there. She wasn’t using the bathroom or anything, she was just standing there”.
“Any idea what she was up to?”
“No, and so I just ignored her has went ahead and used the toilet, and when I came back out of the stall, she was still standing there.”
“Funny place to just stand around” I remarked.
“Yes. But then it really got strange. I started for the sink to wash my hands, and she cut in front of me and turned the water on.”
“No kidding. That was strange! What did you do?” I asked
“Well”, Ginny replied, “I just said ‘excuse me’ and went to a different sink. If she wanted to use that particular sink, I wasn’t going to fight her for it. Then she just looked at me kind of funny, and turned the water off. She didn’t even wash her hands after turning the water on.”
“They do have some strange birds here in the big city” I concluded. Then we finished our steak, went out into the parking lot, pushed our car, jumped in, popped the clutch, and headed back for Iowa City, leaving the black girl still standing in the ladies room.
But even the Golden Ox couldn’t compare to Charlie’s private club. I was in awe. To be sure I didn’t set in the wrong place I waited until everyone else was seated. Then I took the last remaining seat, sat down and pocketed the book of matches that was placed at my setting. Before the matches disappeared into my pocket, however, I noticed that the matches had been printed with Charlie’s name. I had never seen that before. I tried to save those matches as a souvenir but somehow over the years they were lost.
Then I picked up the menu and encountered two problems immediately. For a guy who had only recently learned to eat pizza, I found myself staring at a menu that couldn’t be pronounced. There wasn’t a single thing on the menu that I could order knowing I would be able to eat it. But there was an even bigger problem. None of the entries were priced. No matter what I ordered I ran the risk of ordering the most expensive meal on the menu. I recall Charlie looking at the menu and expressing his pleasure because the pricing had been removed. Previously the prices had been listed, but Charlie explained, “The members complained to management about embarrassing their guests, and requested that the prices be removed”. I looked for clues that might help me make a decision, and when asked to order, gave it my best shot. Hearing my selection, Charlie uttered, “Oh, Bill!”, and I was relieved to know I had guessed correctly the least expensive course.
Next came the wine selection, and while pre-sampling is common in most restaurants today, it wasn’t then. Or at least not in any restaurant I had ever been in. There was a wine rack on one side of the room that contained enough bottles to have kept every wino in Chicago busy for a week. And there are a lot of winos in Chicago. So when the final decision had been made for ordering, Charlie and Raymond with Jacque’s help in translating began the wine selection. I sat there wondering just how much each bottle of wine must cost, and then was shocked when after making their selection, the waiter went to the rack, made a selection and poured a sample for their approval. I couldn’t imagine what was going to happen next. I sat there wondering what they were going to do with that very expensive bottle of wine if Raymond or Charlie had decided against it.
They both gave their approval to the selection, however. So I gave a sigh of relief, and we were ready to begin the conversation. And that was when my most uncomfortable moment of the evening happened. No one started the conversation. The waiter brought the salad, poured wine for everyone, and then everyone just sat there picking at their salad and saying nothing. I was very uncomfortable. Had they been busy talking it would not have been a problem. But with no one saying anything, I felt they had nothing at all to do except set there and take notice that I was completely out of place. In my mind I could hear then saying in their minds, “Why in the world did we bring the chemist with us!”
I had to do something. Finally, when I could stand it no more, I turned to Jacque and said, “Jacque, you must tell me something”.
“What must I tell you?” he replied.
“I’d like to know if you have any fighters in France who can give our Cassius Clay a good fight”. I knew that Europe had their own fight game, and that French fighters occasionally held European titles. But I had no idea if these Jacque and Raymond knew anything about European boxing. And I had no idea if they had even heard of Cassius Clay. I began to regret the question before I even finished it.
Jacque just sat his knife and fork down, looked at me, and said, “Oh,. Mon Ami. C’est manifique!” he exclaimed, and I knew I had struck gold.
Charlie jumped in immediately and added, “Bill, did you know that one of the greatest fighters of all time was a middle weight from France?” Jacque translated all of this for Raymond, and I knew I was about to hear the story of Marce Cerdan, the French middleweight who claimed the world title and was still undefeated when he was killed in a plane crash. The evening conversation had begun. I relaxed, made a few remarks, and then pulled out of the conversation.
My surprises for the evening were not complete yet, however. There was one more to come. I have seen this since, but not to such a grand degree. And at that point I had never seen it at all. When it was time for desert, the waiter rolled out a cart laden with the most indescribable collection of sweets I had ever seen, and began explaining the possible selections. These were not samples of what could be ordered. We just told him what we wanted, and they served it to us right off the cart. Had the club been full of people that night they couldn’t have eaten everything that was available. I still wonder what happened to all of that food.
When the evening meal and the conversation were finished we started the return trip. We left the table and I hoped our French guests had not noticed that I had left my glass of very expensive wine untouched. We said goodnight to our eager-to-please host, went back down the exclusive elevator, retrieved the Cadillac, and headed back to suburban Bellwood. I bid everyone good night, and then found a way to be distracted until Jacque and Raymond were out of sight. I didn’t want them to see me drive away in my 53 Chevy.
It was late when I arrived home, so I tried to sneak into the house without awaking Ginny. That didn’t happen, however. When I entered the bedroom, she switched on the light, and smiling with those incredible blue eyes sparking and squinting in the new light she raised herself on one elbow and asked, “How did it go?”
“Well Ginny,” I answered, “I have now seen both sides of it. I know how the poor live, and now I have seen how the rich live. And rich is better.”
I am happy to hear that your father’s surgery went well, and that he is recovering nicely. And I appreciate your reporting to me that on the night before the surgery the surgeon prepared for the incisions by marking your father with one of my Sharpies. It is always fun for me to learn new ways that the Sharpie is being used. But in this case, I have to admit, I already knew Sharpies are sometimes used for this purpose.
I also must tell you that it might not have been a Sharpie that was used. At least, not the traditional Sharpie that is commonly sold. I am sure it looked like a Sharpie to you, and perhaps that is indeed what the surgeon used. And maybe not. It may have been a marker that looks like a Sharpie, but was custom made for the surgical procedure. But either way, this reminds me of a story, Yes, once again you have brought something up that makes we want to tell another one of my stories. I hope these stories are not boring you. Please let me know if you are getting tired of them.
Back when the Sharpie was still quite new Sanford was always looking for new ways to use the general principle of the Sharpie for new products. So one day Francis Gilbert (the Corporate Vice President) asked me to develop a Sharpie type marker that surgeons could use to mark patients before surgery. And as was always the case, he gave me the performance requirements that I would have to meet. The mark had to stay on the skin even if the patient took a shower or had an alcohol rubdown. In addition it had to be non-toxic and not cause an allergic reaction to even the most sensitive skin.
The product was fairly easy for me to put together. Gincin Violet is a dye that stains protein (skin). And once the skin has been stained with Gincin Violet the mark can’t be washed off. It’s completely safe to apply, and since the dye can be readily dissolved in grain alcohol, it was a simply thing to use it for a non toxic Sharpie type ink. I put that one together very quickly and gave Sanford another new product.
Shortly thereafter was the 1968 Democratic National convention in Chicago. You will no doubt remember that one. Chicago has a very large downtown lakefront park system, and hippies came from all over the country to disrupt the convention. They filled the parks and laid around smoking pot, taking drugs, urinating in the bushes, playing their music, and looking for ways to cause chaos.
Mayor Daley had no patience with them, and called out the National Guard to reinforce his Chicago Police Force. Their orders were to patrol the park area and maintain law and order. The news reporters were in heaven. They poured onto the scene with their cameras and microphones, looking for stories. And they soon discovered how to create them. They would find a group of relatively quite hippies and sat up their lights and camera near to them. As soon as they were on camera, the hippies went crazy, throwing plastic bags of their human waste at the police and guardsman and physically attacking them. When the police tried to defend themselves or lost their temper and became aggressive, there were the reporters collecting evidence, often fabricated, of police brutality.
Tension between the police and the reporters quickly developed. This led the police to bop the reporters on the head also and throw them in the paddy wagon with the hippies when trouble broke out. And that was a big mistake. From that point on, any attempt at objective reporting was out of the window. Following this event the national press turned the hippies into some kind of romantic heroes.
Meanwhile, while all of this craziness was going on, I had to go to work every day and try to make a living. I remember setting at my desk in the lab wondering whatever happened to the country I used to be so proud of, when the telephone rang. It was a call asking for technical assistance. Customers who had a unique marking problem would often call Sanford and ask customer service for a recommendation. These calls were usually sent to me. I answered this call with the usual “How may I help you”? and a voice responded that this was the Chief of Police’s office in Miami, Florida. That caught my attention in a hurry. The Chief of Police in Miami?
The caller continued by noting the complete disaster that was taking place in Chicago. Then he added, “Here in Miami, we are getting ready for the Republican Convention, and we are not about to let happen here what is happening in Chicago. We have information that the hippies are planning a repeat performance here, but we are not going to let things get out of hand here like it has in Chicago”.
“Good for you”, I told him, “but how in the world can I help you”?
“Well”, he said, “what we plan to do is arrest the hippies as fast as they show up. They come to town, they go to jail. We will arrest them for any charge we can find”.
“Sounds like a good plan”, I replied, “but I still don’t see what I can do to help”?
“We are going to be making an awful lot of arrests in a short period of time. There is no way we can process that many people within the normal process. So here is where we need your help. We need a marker that we can physically mark them with. And the marker has to have an ink that will stay on their skin and not be washed off for at least several days. Also, it has to be a marker that will not result in an allergic reaction. We can’t have a bunch of lawyers coming to town with medical lawsuits when this is over. What we need is some way to safely and permanently mark the hippies before we jail them. If we can do that, then we can get them off the streets as fast as they show up and process them later. This is our plan for taking control of this situation. Can you put together a marker like that for us with such short notice”?
Can’t you just see the grin on my face as I told him. “It’s already developed. Just go down to the local medical supply house and pick up a bunch of Sanford Surgical Marking Pens. And go take care of business”!
Now I have no way of knowing if they used my markers or not. All I know is that the Republicans came to Miami, nominated Richard Nixon, had their party, and left town with little or no interference from the hippies.
Am I a hero or what?
So Virginia, if your dad was marked with a black marker before his surgery, then probably it was done with a Sharpie. But if it was a purple (violet) color, it was probably my Surgical Marking Pen, and the same one that helped Richard Nixon become president.
That is honestly and truly just the way it happened. I wouldn’t lie to you. Now if I could just come up with a new scientific invention that will help defeat Obama in the next election ………..
The Light Of The Party:
In the early 1960s large numbers of Cuba refugees flooded into the USA. And almost all of them landed in Florida. There were so many in that state that the federal government initiated a program to find jobs for them in other areas of the country making it easier for them to assimilate into the population. Charlie Lofgren and Francis Gilbert did their share by agreeing to offer employment to a group of them.
By the time I started with Sanford in 1965 these Cubans were established fixtures in the Sanford family. Eduardo was considered one of the most skilled workers in the machine shop. Alfonso worked in the shipping department and used his accounting skills by keeping the books for the company credit union. Dionne was an accomplished businessman with management skills, and Charlie gave him responsibility for Sanford companies he had started in Mexico and in Venezuela.
And then there was Louie. Louie was one of those lovable scoundrels who would do anything for a living except work. His job was to fill special orders for products that were not routinely stocked, or were temporarily out of stock and had to be filled directly from the factory. He was a small, stooped elderly man whose third marriage had produced an intelligent, attractive properly raised daughter named Inez. He also had a niece named Sylvia who was, therefore, a cousin to his daughter. Inez and Sylvia were close in age, close friends and a lot alike in many ways. Both had lived as children in Cuba where daughters were raised with old world expectations and rules, and both had been in America long enough to have become typical America teenagers.
The story I am going to tell you is true. It happened in just the way I have related it. Well ……. I have used a few overstatements and enhancements to achieve certain affects. But those exaggerations will be self evident. It will be obvious when to take the details of this story literally, and when to simply enjoy the literary style. And with that being said, this is the story of how Inez and Sylvia became The Light Of The Party
I. The Spanish Lessons
Louie’s daughter Inez was just starting college when I started with Sanford. We became acquainted because Sanford had a policy of offering summer employment to their employee’s high school and college age kids. Summer months were Sanford’s busiest because of the back-to-school orders, and the summer months were also when most employees took their annual vacations. For that reason temporary labor was needed for the company and families needed extra money for college, so it was a good policy for everyone. Inez was one of those who applied for summer work, and because she had good math and technical skills she was assigned to work as my lab assistant. Although I was married and well into my career while she was single and just starting college, we were close enough in age and had enough in common that our relationship was as much that of friends as it was that of a supervisor and a technician. Inez had a cousin named Sylvia who also was employed in the factory during the summer months. Inez and Sylvia were close in age, both were quite attractive, and both had acquired the sense of adventure and daring that made them typical American teenagers.
I decided one summer than I should take advantage of having a bilingual lab assistant to learn Spanish. I had demonstrated beyond doubt during my college studies that learning a second language was almost impossible for me, so I hit upon a method of learning Spanish that I thought might be suited for someone lacking in language skills. Inez would give me a Spanish sentence to learn. It could be anything, “Es un dia caluroso hoy”.”.. She would write it out in Spanish, and teach me how to pronounce the words. I would have no idea what the sentence said; I only learned how to say it. I then took that sentence into the factory where one of the Cubans worked and repeated the sentence to them. That person would listen to it, tell me what I had said. In this example I had said, “It is very hot today”. My tutor would then compose a response in Spanish that I would take back to Inez who would tell me its meaning.
I was actually learning a little Spanish when one day Inez wrote out my next lesson, and as I departed to find a find an interpreter, Inez stopped me and said, “Make sure you take this one to Sylvia”.
“Sylvia”? I repeated.
“Yes”, she replied. “Make sure you take this one to Sylvia”.
“OK”, I replied, and took off through the door, down the steps and into the factory where I located Sylvia. I proudly read the sentence to her using my best Spanish enunciation.
Sylvia just stopped and looked at me, and then asked, “Have you any idea what you just said”?
“No”, I said, and then I explained my scheme for learning Spanish.
She laughed and said, “Well, Inez just taught you how to proposition a girl in Spanish”.
My mouth dropped. Sylvia laughed. Then I laughed. Then we both laughed. And then Sylvia gave me a response to take back to Inez. She wrote down for me “No va a suceder”, which I learned from Inez means, in good down home English, “It ain’t gonna happen”.
II. The Brinks Security Pen
Charlie was always looking for a way to use the general concept of the Sharpie to address a different need. A Sharpie type pen that was specifically formulated for making laundry is an example of one of his ideas that realized a fair amount of success. His Brinks Security Marker was a total flop. Charlie had learned that the police often took possession of stolen merchandise that they were unable to return it to its rightful owner because there was no way for the owner to prove ownership. And besides, the owner often was unaware the merchandise had even been found. Charlie wanted to market a special type Sharpie that could used to identify things likely to be taken in a burglary like a TV or jewelry box by simply putting their name and address on it. With a standard Sharpie the markings would be visible, and the thief would simply remove or obliterate the markings. And in some cases there would be no good place to mark an object with a ordinary Sharpie without ruining its appearance. But if the markings were visible only under black light, the thief would not know to remove them, and the properly alerted police would be able to identify the owner by scanning the items under a UV light source.
Charlie spent a great deal of time consulting with law enforcement officials and decided the product had potential, so he made an agreement with the Brinks Security company to put their name on his marker. He thought having a name well known in the security trade on the pen would give the customer some confidence that it was a quality product. He and Francis Gilbert then drew up a list of performance requirements that had to be met and assigned the project to me. And I set out to develop a marker that was invisible in daylight, visible under UV light, permanent to water spills, did not wear off with normal handling, and so forth.
I did not have to develop materials that glowed under UV light. I only had to find a commercially available UV responsive material that I could use in an ink formula much like dyes were used in my Sharpie ink formulas. To this end I accumulated a wide range of materials with varying solubility properties and began my work. It was summer, and Inez had been assigned to assist me with my laboratory experiments.
I had not gone far beyond the first stage of acquiring materials when on a Friday at the end of the workday Inez and Sylvia burst into the lab and came straight to me desk. Louie was impatiently waiting for them in his car to take them home. “Bill”, they said, “Do you have any Sharpies made up yet that will glow under black light”? Inez and I had been making sample formulas that week, but only for the purpose of evaluating specific properties.
“No….” I replied. “Not yet”.
They just looked at each other and then asked, “Well, what about an ink we can brush on. Do you have any samples like that”?
”Not really. Why? What are you two up to”?
They were nervously trying to hurry because Louie was waiting to take them home. “We are going to a dance Saturday. One of those places where they have black lights all over the place. Kids wear clothes that glow under black light – like shirts, socks ….”
“Oh, I get it. And if you had a black light Sharpie you could write and draw on something, and wear it”.
“Yeah. Or just draw something on the back of our hands or something like that. You gotta have something we can just brush on, don’t you”.
A thought came to me, but I had to be cautions. “Well, hummmm. Yes”. I reached for a small bottle of liquid and held it for them to see. Let me give you this. But I will first have to dilute it with water. It is very powerful stuff. Just a few drops will make a whole gallon of ink”. I started to get a small empty container from my lab bench.
Quick as a cat Inez grabbed it from my hand and answered, “Dad is waiting and we gotta hurry. We’ll cut it back ourselves. Thanks.”. And Zip – they flew away like two 110 pound Caribbean hurricanes, their long black hair trailing behind them in the wind.
When I got back to work the next Monday morning I learned the details of what happened next. And I had to pry it out of the girls one bit of information at a time. But for the purpose of telling this story, I will assemble all those pieces chronologically to give the reader an account of what happened next.
I had assumed that they would first dress for the dance, and then dilute the concentrated magic potion that I have given them and draw a small figure somewhere on their person. Silly me. On Saturday afternoon they got together and began doing the skin art. And oh by the way, they didn’t bother to dilute the concentrate. They applied it in its full strength.
The material dried perfectly clear on their skin. And since they couldn’t see any of the details of what they had applied, they convinced themselves that I had lied to them and that this stuff wasn’t going to glow at all when they got to the dance. So they recklessly applied the stuff all over their arms, legs and faces. Concentrated. They applied it in its concentrated form. And then they went on to other matters that are crucial for young girls getting ready for a dance, and promptly forget that they had put this stuff on them at all.
And then…. And then they went to their separate homes to get ready to go to the dance, which meant taking a bath. And getting into the bath water with the concentrated UV material all over their themselves, they managed to convert their bath water into a tub full of Bill Green’s super amazing, just-a-dab-will-do-you, glow-in-the-dark, guaranteed-to-make-you--the-light-of-the-party, knock-you-down-dead-spectacular, glow-under-black-light body paint. Which they then proceeded to spread over their entire bodies as they washed away the day’s collection of dirt and grime.
It is important to remember that the girls had decided that the magic potion I had given them was not going to glow at all, and they therefore put it completely out of their minds. As they got out of their car and walked toward the entrance of the dance they were thinking only about music and boys, and in which order I will not try to guess. And then they walked in the door.
………. And then they walked in the door! ……… Wow! They lit up like two Martians getting ready to invade the planet earth! The band stopped playing. The kids stopped dancing. Everyone and everything just stopped dead, including Inez and Sylvia who just stood there in shock as every inch of their exposed bodies, which was a very high percentage of the total, glowed a brilliant green.
And there is more. One of the shocked dancers cautiously inched his way over to them and touched an arm, or something, only to find that the finger that he used to touch with was now glowing also. And then he discovered whatever he touched with that finger began glowing also.
So why stop with a finger print? This collection of future American leaders quickly learned that an entire hand print could easily be placed somewhere that would begin glowing, and one can only imagine where hand prints began appearing after producing a radiant hand by touching either Inez or Sylvia. Touch-ers transferred ink to touch-ees, who then became touch-ers, and soon everyone at the dance was both a touch-er and a touch-ee. It became known as the Great Chicago Electroluminescent Riot of nineteen seventy something. I fail to remember the exact year that all of this happened.
III After The Ball
Monday morning when I walked into the laboratory I found Inez and Sylvia waiting for me. Without even a Good Morning they asked immediately, “Bill, how do you get that stuff you gave us off”?
“Get it off”? I replied, “I don’t know. I haven’t worked with it that much”. And then I began to press them for the details of their experience. It took some prying. They weren’t eager to admit how careless they had been. But in the end I was able to collect all of the details that I have recounted here. And after laughing until my side hurt I finally gave them the answer to their question. “Get it off? Well, I suppose you need to do again what you have already done”.
“And just what is that”? The asked.
“Take another bath”. I had no idea why they didn’t use a shower instead unless they only had tubs available.
“We’ve already done that. And then we went out a bought a cheap black light to check with, and that stuff is still there”.
“Well”, I said “take another bath. And another one. And another one. And …….
“Is that the best you can do”? They demanded.
“I’m afraid so. That material obviously stains protein, i.e., skin. Apparently it is only going to go away over time.”
They uttered something is disgust and turned to leave. “Wait a minute!” I called out. And they stopped to look at me. I said, “I need another Spanish lesson”.
“What do you want to know how to say”?
“How do you say in Spanish, ‘Just let me know if you need someone to wash your back’”?
One of them replied, “ No va a suceder“, and Zip – they were gone, like two 110 pound Caribbean hurricanes with their long black hair trailing behind them in the wind.