Autopen: the Killer App of 1937

#History

Mon, Apr 14th, 2014 10:00 by capnasty NEWS

The United States government relies on an antiquated piece of equipment put in place during the Franklin Roosevelt administration called the Autopen. The machine, dubbed "Robot Pen," can reproduce the signature of "time-starved senior leaders and presidents." Despite being called as "not lasting" by its creator, the device, which was technologically novel for its time, can "greenlight projects, disburse federal money, even launch a Navy ship or two."

The biggest government inventory of autopens is in the military, federal contract data show. At Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, Brig. Gen. Michael Rothstein prefers to personally sign certificates for commendations. But sometimes he’s too busy overseeing the service’s largest fighter wing. The autopen steps in.

“We could go all digital with these meritorious service medals and just put them into the [airmen’s] records,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Warner, Rothstein’s chief of staff. But they want to make sure that “20 years later the person has that certificate they can show their grandkids.”

For a time when he was defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld used his autopen to sign condolence letters to families of deceased service members, but he abandoned the practice after lawmakers criticized him.

Even as it flourishes inside government, the pen has already entered the realm of historical artifact. It’s the last in an exhibit of signatures dating from 1783 that opened last month at the National Archives.

The autopen makers admit to some surprise that they’re still in business.

The above image is from the Wikipedia entry on the Autopen.

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