A brand is often a company’s greatest asset. Frequently more than just a logo, tagline, or ad campaign, a brand is the sum total of the consumer’s experiences and interactions with it. Brands are fueled by a purpose and nurtured by the emotional attachment that they cultivate with their target audience. They are the vehicle by which a company defines itself, allowing it to differentiate its products and services from those of its competitors. Brand names can have a significant impact on the consumer’s perceived quality of a product, an item’s price, or even someone’s intention to purchase. The rise of global branding has transformed the marketing industry over the past century. While many brands have been able to successfully conform to a variety of cultures and their values, the discipline is littered with examples where that wasn’t the case. In a field complicated by cultural factors, the diversity of languages, and nationalism, adapting a brand name to the language of the target market can mean the difference between success and failure but the choice is not always so clear-cut. Linguistic and cultural assessments are key when entering a new market and this is something that Pelikan wrestled with in the first half of the twentieth century.
Pelikan’s fountain pen production spans nearly nine decades and more than a few mysteries have arisen over that time. Many of those puzzles relate to the provenance of certain models and are born largely from the lack of available documentation today. One lasting consequence of World War II (1939-45) has been the destruction of countless historic records. An area of fountain pen production that has been subjected to a fair bit of speculation has been the models attributed to Günther Wagner’s Danzig-Langfuhr plant. This facility is chiefly known for a unique version of the Pelikan 100N that has long been attributed to it. Danzig is the German word for Gdańsk, a Polish city on the Baltic coast. Following World War I (1914-18), the Treaty of Versailles established the Free City of Gdańsk, a territory that was under the oversight of the League of Nations. While largely influenced by Polish rule, the region remained fairly independent, acting as a conduit between Poland and Germany. The Polish or Danzig Corridor as this region was known was created so that Poland would not be landlocked or completely dependent on German ports. German citizens could cross the corridor by railroad, but were not permitted access to it without special authorization. Danzig’s unique status between the two nations prompted many German manufacturers to establish a presence there in order to sell goods in Poland without incurring the high customs fees that were usually levied on products from foreign companies. In the borough of Wrzeszcz (the Polish word for Langfuhr) during the late 1800s, brick carriage houses served as the base of operations for the troops of the 17th West Pomeranian Railway Battalion. Following World War I, those troops moved out of the region and the demilitarized area was turned into an industrial park of sorts. It was well suited to this purpose being on the outskirts of the city with a well-developed rail line running through the area. It is in this borough of Gdańsk where Günther Wagner would come to establish a factory. Due to a large population of Germans in the region, the Nazi party eventually came to demand that the city be turned over to Germany while the minority Poles hoped for a return to Poland. Hitler used the status of the city as a pretext for attacking Poland in September of 1939.