Esterbrook's last president before the merger with Venus was Kenneth MacDonald. He was an interesting person and his story of moving from shipping clerk to sales to president, was a typical one at Esterbrook, with lots of their executive officers coming from lowly positions in the company.
In an article in 1973 that tells MacDonald's story, there are some tidbits that shed some light on the last years of Esterbrook's independence. Here's an excerpt.
"One of MacDonald's first decisions[after having been named President in 1964] was to move the firm from its longtime location in the shadow of Ben Franklin bridge to a new site in Cherry Hill. He saw clearly that what Esterbrook needed was "straight-line production," an operation all on one level with raw materials moving in at one end and finished pens being shipped out at the other. In Camden there simply wasn't enough room; the only direction in which to expand was up.
At its new site the pen company "really started to move," MacDonald recalls. Unfortunately, it also began to be pinched for money. The economic fources that would produce the tight-money "crunch" of 1968 were already coming into play. The banks, fully loaned up, were reluctant to increase their commitments to Esterbrook.
Funds from a private source were available, but at a price - a sizeable share of stock in the closely held, family-controlled company. MacDonald and his board of directors decided they had no alternative.
Having won representation on Esterbrook's board, the money man began to contribute ideas as well as money. His money worked fine. Some of his ideas didn't.
One of his ideas was for merger with a pencil company. MacDonald opposed the merger, which he felt would benefit neither firm; the two operations had practically nothing in common except that the end-product of both was used for writing and drawing.
He lost. Eventually the two firms were merged, company headquarters was moved to Philadelphia, then to New York, the manufacturing plant went to Tennessee and MacDonald was out as president, though with an offer to continue as U.S. division manager of the merged companies.
He was cool to the idea, and also to the lfattering offers he'd had from Parker, Sheaffer and various other penmakers. "I asked myself whether I wanted more of the same old rat race," he recalled
MacDonald went on to become president of Winner Ford, a large dealership in North New Jersey. When he took it over it was in the red, by the time of the article in 1973, "Winner's sales far surpass those of Esterbrook when he headed the penmaking firm."
In 1977 MacDonald went on to become mayor of Haddenfield, NJ, and then get appointed to the casino gambling commission of New Jersey as they tried to introduce gambling to Atlantic City. He was appointed because of his long history of honest business and community service.
Unfortunately, in 1980, MacDonald was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The FBI ran a sting operation to catch crooked politicians that later became known as ABSCAM. The whole story is a fascinating read. Poor MacDonald, a man who had worked hard for a sterling reputation just happened to be the person accompanying the mayor of Camden, NJ to a hotel room to meet a man who represented "a big cartel" interested in investing in Atlantic City. According to MacDonald, who a lot of people at the time, and later, believe was innocent of any corruption, as soon as he saw suitcases of cash being handed over and the guy indicating he wanted a casino license, he told them they were crazy and walked out. Unfortunately his name was blasted all over the papers, he was indicted along with the crooked politicians and he passed away before he had his day in court to clear his name. The whole thing was a mess from the beginning. Two US asst. US attorneys resigned rather than indict MacDonald, but the Justice Dept. found some who would.
In the end, seven US congressmen (6 Reps and 1 Senator), a member of the New Jersey State Senate, members of the Philadelphia City Council, the Mayor of Camden, NJ, and an inspector for the Immigration and Naturalization service were convicted. There were some heroes, like MacDonald, and North Dakota Senator Larry Pressler, who not only turned down the money, but immediately informed the FBI. When he was called a "hero" he demurred by pointing out it's a pretty low bar to be a hero if all you have to do is refuse an illegal bribe.
It also led to a major overhaul in how the Justice Dept. ran sting operations. The 2013 movie American Hustle was very loosely based on the events.
And it all connects to Esterbrook.