When 25-year-old Patrick Joseph Frawley Jr. went into the ball-point-pen business in 1949, he could not have picked a worse time. The market was flooded with pens; bankers warned against writing checks with them (forgers could literally pick up a transfer of a signature); schoolteachers banned them; and retailers were swamped with complaints. But Pat Frawley was full of confidence—and with good reason. At 16 he was a salesman for his father's export-import business in Nicaragua; at 18 he negotiated a $300,000 deal between Panama and U.S. Rubber. At 23 he built...

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