Zenith. It was cheap and quality matched the best pens in the world

It was supposed to be Polish Parker. The cult Zenith pen, which Poland has been writing and still writing, has been produced in the same place for nearly half a century. Yes, yes, the factory at ul. Żwirki i Wigury in Częstochowa is still working!

When in 1964 a young engineer Józef Koszkul crossed the threshold of Częstochowa Office Materials Factory, which produced pens on the tiny street of Żwirki i Wigury, he did not expect that in a few years he would change the face of this place and create a product known to this day all over Poland. . After more than two years of work in Kraków, he was returning to Częstochowa, where he graduated from the Polytechnic.


– My mother-in-law convinced me to ask for a job at Częstochowa Office Materials Factory, because apparently someone was looking for – recalls Józef Koszkul, already recognized today. – The then director of Kaczmarek – who was later released, because he sent a child to the First Holy Communion – welcomed me with open arms. I created a design and technology office from scratch. 300 people may have worked at the factory at the time. When I left his walls six years later, the crew consisted of almost 1,000 employees. It is a pity that he has so little to this day.


It started with fountain pens


“As for me, Omega should be a symbol of pre-war Polish fountain pen, many colors, sizes, different ways of filling in. There is something to collect and enjoy the eyes” – such opinions can be read on the forum of fountain pens lovers.


And these collector’s rarities referring to many solutions to the American Parker were produced before the war in Częstochowa at ul. Fabryczna, or today’s Mielczarski. In 1934, the “Omega” Everlasting Feathers factory owned by M. Szaja and A. Wrocławski was opened there.


Soon, however, hard times came. During the war, the factory operated, although under German management. In 1949 it was nationalized and production resumed in the next, as Częstochowa Office of Office Supplies. The company, which produced eternal pens and paper products, entered factories at Mielczarski, Wolności and Żwirki i Wigury streets (until 1950 there was a private factory producing school notebooks and cardboard packaging, and the owners were also busy framing books), and also in Gnaszyn. Around 70 people worked at them then.


In 1954, the company underwent a thorough reorganization – the production of Częstochowa Office of Office Materials at ul. Żwirki i Wigury was focused on the production of feathers and then automatic pencils. Gnieszyń Zakłady Przetwory Papierowych took over the production of paper and cardboard products. – The feathers produced at that time were of low quality – says Józef Koszkul.


In the early 1960s, when a young engineer took a job at ul. Żwirki i Wigury, the plant started to modernize the production process. – The management went to China to buy modern machines – says the professor.


People’s China Republic took over the Parker factory in Shanghai, so they had access to technology. – Machines and tools have been imported, but the Chinese, unfortunately, did not give instructions and documentation, which caused many problems – recalls Józef Koszkul. – In addition, the imported products from China were of low quality, they broke down very often, so the maintenance services had to do what.


The machines were adapted to the production of fountain pen based on the famous Parker 51. And this was the basis of the Zenith fountain pen developed in the plant, which began to be manufactured in 1965.


– I remember that I was sent to the mint to Warsaw for gold for nibs. I went in an old coat, not to arouse suspicions, but I was very scared – Professor smiles today. – I brought a kilogram of gold, but it turned out that it failed the exam because the nibs were too soft. In the end, we used stainless steel for them.


And to cut the iridium ball nibs, the team composed of engineer Józef Koszkul, technical director of the plant Eugeniusz Helm and technologist Jan Frymus applied his own method, which he submitted in 1967 to the Patent Office. It was “a way to cut hard metals with a soft metal plate”.


The authorities want Parker


The first good pen, the production of which was launched in the Częstochowa Office Materials Factory, was modeled on the Chinese model – also the earlier Parker model.

– I prepared his production with colleagues. There was a big problem with creating the injection mold on the lower part of the pen, which at its beginning has a non-rotational shape. The mold cavity could not be made by machining. That is why the right shape was obtained by the plastic forming method, by extruding its shape with a stamp on a hydraulic press. Besides, in the factory in Rudniki – says Józef Koszkul. – These first pens were very good and were well received on the market. That’s why there was a new demand: for the original Parker pen.


At the end of the 1960s, Częstochowa Office Materials Department was instructed by the authorities to develop a design for such a pen for the next party congress. – It was supposed to be anti-import production. On the basis of the previous launches, the authorities assumed that we would manage the topic – the professor remembers back to that time. – Americans believed that no one would take up their pen, which is why in Poland they patented only the shape of the clip’s tip with its logo as a trademark.


The rest was borrowed from Parker, and the new pen was given – like the pen – the name Zenith. But production did not go smoothly. – We got to work, but everything was missing. Fortunately, for the slogan that we are making a product for the party of the ruling party, all the doors, even foreign ones, were opened – says the professor.


The biggest problems were with the writing tip. – It is finished with a tiny ball with a diameter of 0.6 to 1 millimeter to distribute the ink. With the help of the Częstochowa University of Technology we managed to produce such balls, but unfortunately they were not perfect. Some were round and then the pen was great, others were elliptical and then stuck. We could not release a poor product to the market. That is why we obtained the authorities’ permission to bring the ends of pens from Switzerland – says Józef Koszkul.


It was not until 1971 that Częstochowa Zakłady Materiałów Budowlanych bought Swiss machines, thanks to which they could produce the whole cartridge by themselves.


Because not only the writing tips gave the young constructor trouble. For example, he had to get a brass tube for cartridges in the armaments industry, and he brought his mascara from West Germany, because the Polish Inco did not take the exam.


There were also problems with the threads. However, we managed to develop new designs of injection molds for the elements of ballpoint pens with threads. – The impressions of these forms were removed from the mold when it was opened – explains the constructor.


The team consisting of Wiktor Gładysz, Jan Stacewicz, Józef Koszkul and Edmund Psiuk applied in 1969 for a patent for this invention. A patent called “Device for removing molded parts, especially from injection molds for plastics” was obtained in 1972.


– The pen was made, and the minister granted us a reward for it – says the professor. – I remember when we watched on television, or at the convention actually write with our pens. And they wrote.


Subsequent Zenith models, bearing numbers, including Zenith 4 (the same cartridges were also sold at this number) or Zenith 5, were slightly different. However, since they were modeled on the original Parker, they had the upper part of their housing made of metal. – From market research, it turned out that customers do not want to use gray. We have introduced colors. At that time, a very capable chemist Aleksandra Kroczyńska worked at the plant, she imported dyes from Germany and developed a technology for coloring plastics in pastel colors – recalls Józef Koszkul.


A young engineer finished his work at Częstochowa Office Materials Factory in 1970 – When I left the factory, many Zenith pens were already produced. Later, their range was broadened considerably, mainly with models made entirely of plastics, with different patterns and shapes – says the professor.

Famous Zenith 7


Zenith 7 – the most recognized model in Poland was such a pen. His first version was ready in 1971, but it was patented only four years later.




Zenith 7 had an octagonal cross-section in the upper part with a thread at the bottom, to which a smooth lower part with a chrome-plated steel border that surrounded the writing end was screwed. The place of joining the two main parts was covered with a conical metal cap. The button for manipulating the cartridge slides into the hole forming the base of the clip with the logo and the name of the ballpoint pen.


“Gazeta Częstochowska” in October 1972 wrote: “(…) CZMB have big problems with meeting numerous orders, especially to meet the needs of schoolchildren who are looking for good and cheap pens, and – increasingly – everlasting pens. (…) The latest in a series of ballpoint pens produced by Częstochowa Zakłady Materiałów Biurowych Zenith 7 will be released soon. By the end of this year, the market will receive about 20,000 of these pens, in 1973 over 300,000. “


– Zenith was cheap, and the quality matched the best pens in the world, which is why he enjoyed such a huge popularity – assesses Professor Józef Koszkul.


The Zenith pen has even become a hero of the publication “Icons of design in the Silesian voivodeship”, which a few years ago was created as part of an EU project implemented by the Marshal’s Office in Katowice. Its author, Irma Kozina, a town-planner, art historian, lecturer at the University of Silesia, presented trends in design in the Silesian province in the twentieth century. Zenith performed, among others next to the Capello radio, the MOJ 130 motorcycle and the Foka glider.


Zenith is still being produced and sold


At the end of the 1970s, Częstochowa Office Materials Department continued to grow. An office building opposite the factory was opened – on the other side of Żwirka i Wigury. In the 1980s, the factory was modernized, bringing more machines from Switzerland and France.


Trouble began in the 90s, when the competition appeared on the market. The plants have been privatized. Then they were transformed into more companies with different names, including Astra-Zenith, Zenith-MonAmi, the owner changed every move. The crew was gradually reduced. The last investor – a Korean company – finally, a few years ago, suspended production, rights to the Zenith trademark and distribution of these products leaving the Warsaw company Astra.


Former employees of the Częstochowa Office Materials Factory in agreement with the new distributor decided to save Zenith’s production. Since 2008, only a few rooms of the former plant have been operated by their tiny, multi-person Omega company. On the basis of a commercial deal with Astra, he still manufactures Zenith pens. All employees are the former Częstochowa staff of Zakłady Materiałów Biurowych.


Professor Józef Koszkul, Zenith constructor

Born in 1938 in Barcice near Nowy Sącz. In 1957 he graduated from the Railway Technical School in Nowy Sącz, in the years 1957-1962 he studied at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at the Częstochowa University of Technology. He started his work in 1962 as a constructor at Zakłady Budowy Maszyn i Aparatury in Krakow. In the years 1964-1970 he was the main technologist in the Częstochowa Office Materials Factory. In 1970 he became the head of the Częstochowa branch of the Institute of Small and Craft Industries in Warsaw, and after the reorganization in 1972 – the head of the Department of Technology and Construction of Plastics Processing in the Research and Development Center of General-purpose Articles. During this time, he obtained the qualifications of a patent attorney and the qualifications of a qualified appraiser of SIMP. In 1976, he received his doctorate and was transferred to work at the Częstochowa Polytechnic, in 1986 he was habilitated at the Silesian University of Technology. From 1992, he was employed as an associate professor at the Faculty of Machine Design at Częstochowa University of Technology. In 2001, he was given the title of full professor. He specialized mainly in the technology of processing and heat treatment of thermoplastics. In the years 1996-2002 he was the dean of the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, which at his request was transformed into the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science. In the years 2002-2005 he was the vice-rector of the Częstochowa University of Technology for Development and International Cooperation. Since 1964 he has been working socially in the Association of Engineers and Technicians of Polish Mechanics, initially as deputy secretary of the branch in Częstochowa, and then, continuously since 1972, as its president. He received many awards and prizes, including Golden Cross of Merit, Officer’s Cross of the Order of Rebirth of Poland, Medal of the National Education Commission.


Above article is Google translation of Gazeta Wyborcza article: https://czestochowa.wyborcza.pl/czestochowa/1,150461,20104150,zenith-byl-tani-a-jakoscia-dorownywal-najlepszym-dlugopisom.html?disableRedirects=true