“My family made the pen that wrote the Constitution of India”

My grandfather, Dwarkadas Jivanlal Sanghvi (Standing right in a black coat) with his brother Vallabhdas Jivanlal Sanghvi and business partners, at a Pen Exhibition in Bombay. Circa1951

Image & Narrative points contributed by Purvi Sanghvi, Mumbai

This picture is of my grandfather Dwarkadas Jivanlal Sanghvi and his brother Vallabhdas Jivanlal Sanghvi with their business partners at a Pen Exhibition in Bombay around 1951.

My paternal grandfather Dwarkadas Jivanlal Sanghvi was born in Rajula, in Gujarat on September 17, 1913 into an impoverished family. He was around the age of eight when his father died and because his mother Amrutben could not afford to bring him up, he was sent to a Balashram (Children’s home). He only managed to study up until 4th standard. At the age of 13 he went to Rangoon, Burma to join his elder brother, Vallabhdas Jivanlal Sanghvi who had moved there to work at a general store which sold cutlery and kitchen ware. As a young teenager, my grandfather would earn little money babysitting children in Rangoon.

Soon the enterprising brothers began buying fountain pens from traders and selling them on the pavements of Rangoon, making tiny profits. Meanwhile the entire family (their mother & sisters) also moved to Rangoon including the new wife my grandfather, at the age of 23 had travelled back to Gujarat to marry.

My father was born in 1939 in Rangoon, but then the World war II broke out, In 1941 the family chose to move to Calcutta (now Kolkata) where my grandfather Dwarkadas founded a whole sale trading company called Kiron & Co, named after my father whose name was Kiran (with an A), but when a Bengali sign painter instead spelt it as Kiron (with an O), with no time for corrections, the name stayed as painted. Both the company’s & my father’s.

The Brothers soon realized that good business beckoned them back to western India and they moved to Valsad, Gujarat and then to Bombay. In Bombay, Dwarkadas & his brother Vallabhdas invested in and installed a lathe machine in a small shed at Kasturchand Mill compound in Dadar west and began manufacturing most of the Pen parts by themselves. I think Dhiraj Manufacturing was my grand-uncle Vallabhdas’s venture but both companies traded in Wilson as well.

In the beginning, the Nibs were imported from USA, under the brand names of Sita & Sity. However, as an error the supplier sent them a box of Nibs called Wilson instead. The war was a huge obstacle to sending the consignment back so they had no choice but to start making the pens with the un-returnable nibs. With the entire pen rebranded as Wilson, the pen sold far better than they expected and yet again another mistaken name was retained.

By the mid 1940s the business grew and they had begun manufacturing all pens from scratch. The Manufacturing units moved to Andheri East and to Chakala. And they also introduced other brands such as the President. With almost a 1200 people as staff, there were people from almost all communities working together; A lot of women were hired for the first time. While the machines were worked by men, all the assembling of the pen was done entirely by women. Their daily salary at the time was around Rs. 3 to 4 per day. Meanwhile my grandfather taught himself to read, write and speak in English at the age of 42, because he understood that knowing English was important for modern businesses to grow.

Wilson Pens quickly rose to huge fame and became a preferred choice of pens across the country. All government offices, law court, used the Wilson pens. In School too, the teachers would ask us for Wilson Pens as gifts. Chippi chawl was the wholesale office that was visited by salesmen from all over the country who came to negotiate and buy pens and other Wilson stationery. Soon the pens were also being exported to several countries.

In 1961-62 a huge union strike set up the family businesses for hard times. The pressures were hard to handle and so the Brothers split their business by picking chits (draw of luck) of the businesses they would run. Vallabdas got President Pens and my grandfather got Wilson along with the Refill plant (an Italian collaboration) that came into my grandfather and his sons share.

For some time the businesses ran as smoothly as they could. Both the brothers’ children set up their own units and began manufacturing all kinds of pens. We made Refills, Ball pens, VV pens, Jotters, Jumbos. Several of the new designs were also imitated by new and upcoming businesses.

Another violent and strife-full union strike in the early 1980’s organized by the infamous trade union leader Dutta Samant (lasted for approx. ten months) closed down our businesses for a while (including several others’ in Bombay), but it was the last and the third strike in 1998 that broke our businesses completely apart and my grandfather & father had no choice but to shut everything down yet again. So hard was the last fall that my father and grandfather just could not find in themselves the courage to start all over again.

Towards the end of his life, Dwarkadas spent most of his time at home. He had since long harboured deep regrets about not being very educated and hence at his voluntary retirement he donated a lot of money for education. He founded and funded almost four to five educational institutions. DJ Sanghvi Engineering College, in Ville Parle (Mumbai), Amrutben Jivanlal College of Commerce (earlier a part of Mithibhai College) also in Mumbai, Jivanlal Anandji High school in Rajula, Gujarat and another school nearby in Amreli District.

In 2002, the Pioneer of Pens in India, my grandfather Dwarkadas passed away.

Of the several interesting family stories about Wilson, one in particular that makes me most proud is when I learnt that we the Wilson Pen Family, made the orange, thick-nibbed pen that wrote the most fundamental document that defines the state of India: The constitution of India written by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar. It was later confirmed via several sources. I am very sure it made my grandfather very very happy and immensely proud too.

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This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. PooPooKhan

    Yes, Wilson also copied the Parker 45 and 51!

  2. Zackiu

    Solo oggi dopo una veloce ricerca ho realizzato che la penna che nel 1977/8 acquistai per strada a Bombay è una Wilson Vacumatic (o copia), ricordo che guardai sbigottito la manovra del venditore che con grande abilità versava l’inchiostro nel serbatoio senza versarne una goccia. la penna scrive benissimo ma la filettatura del corpo penna ha perduto resistenza.

  3. Venkatesh Sharma

    I am a Dj Sanghvi College Student and Today I have felt that : My college is not just a College it was a dream of two brothers which came true .

    I wish i could have met D J Sir but i was just 3 yrs old when he went to Heaven .
    Today fortunately I got this Information and Thanks for this feels like I was sleeping on bed and some one woke me up and said the launching pad you are finding in outside world you are actually walking on it .

    Today I just imagined an Drone View of my college


  4. admin

    From Amit

    Dear Purvi,
    Thanks… Please share post about ‘Wilson Pens’ – Umbergaon Unit – Gujarat.
    And his owner Mr. Ashok Sanghavi. As My Father spend his whole professional carrier in that company (He is no more now).

  5. Eva Hazarika

    On which year and who bought pens to write the constitution of India. Constitution of India under the guidance of Dr B R Ambedkar,Prem Bihari Narayan wrote in hindi and ecglish in install style. Let me know from whom or name of the company they bought total 432 pens.

  6. Dhansukh Solanki

    I still have a Wilson Ball Point Pen and a Wilson Fountain Pen that has a nib that looks like a Nib from Parker 45.
    The fountain pen worked fine when I tested it couple of years a go as for the Ballpoint Pen it will now need a refill because the original one must have dried up. and Parker Jotter refills work well with it.

  7. Pranil Kadam

    Dear Purvi,
    Thanks for the wonderful article. This has special place in heart as my mom started when she was 15 years old (Nirmala Dalvi now Manisha Kadam age 67) worked with Wilson pen for 12 long years with Kiranbhai , Balkisan bhai..
    She always talks about those memories & Kiranbhai as a good human being. He treated his staff like his extended family.

    I have so much to talk about. Hope to connect with you.. My mom will be very much happy to see the next generation.

    Pranil kadam

  8. Virendra Singh

    Thanks for sharing this Purvi.

    I remember giving Daddy a Wilson pen for his birthday (and of course I used it). He liked it. I still think that it wrote much better than a Parker and a Sheaffer that we had.

  9. Virendra Singh

    Thanks for this Purvi.

    I remember giving Daddy a Wilson pen for his birthday (and of course I used it). He liked it. I still think that it wrote much better than a Parker and a Sheaffer that we had.


    During my college days, i.e. in 70’s I still remember for having used these Wilson brand fountain pens and Jotter refilled ball-point pens, which I used to purchase from Geeta Pen Stores, Majestic Circle, Bangalore ( now, it’s defunct ). Such a wonderful pens. And all of a sudden, after two decades, these pens disappeared from the market. I was not aware of the facts, then, about non-availability of these good pens and I understand the real reasons and the History behind the pioneers of pen industry in India. Very GOOD..! But still we miss you…

  11. Prashant

    Hi Purvi

    Such a powerful story. Any idea where the original pen is?

    Last I heard it was with Dr. Arun Kamble, the president of the organisation
    Dalit Panther.

    Once again, great story.

  12. Ravi

    Didn’t Wilson Pens also have a popular range of ball point pens called Geflo?

  13. Joe

    Thanks for sharing this Purvi. Eventhough we did own the Wilson and the President pen once upon a time, this is the first time I get to read the history behind it.
    (my Dad always carried a President pen)
    Just imagine the quirk of fate with that wrong consignment of nibs.

  14. kavita

    What a lovely informative story! Thank you so much for this treat!

  15. Jeevan

    Very well written Purvi, was a very interesting read…

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