Sterling, home to maker of the autopen; it signs so you don’t have to

September 16, 2013
The "Ghostwriter," described by Automated Signature Technology of Sterling as "the nation's best-known and premier autopen machine." Can adjust pen pressure, vary in size, and use crayon. (Automated Signature Technology)
The “Ghostwriter,” described by Automated Signature Technology of Sterling as “the nation’s best-known and premier autopen machine.” Can adjust pen pressure, vary in size, and use crayon. (Automated Signature Technology)

Among Northern Virginia’s great contributions to the advancement of civilization is the autopen, which takes a pen and signs letters, legislation, footballs, whatever you need done in your own signature. And in a Sterling industrial park, Automated Signature Technology produces the autopen machines first invented by Robert De Shazo Jr. in the Alexandria Torpedo Factory in 1942.

Buzz McClain in Northern Virginia Magazine recently profiled the company, which staunchly protects the privacy of its customers, because many people don’t want it known that they didn’t actually sign their own autograph or letter. The idea of an autopen was not

Robert M. De Shazo Jr. Devised and patented his autopen machine in Alexandria in 1942, later opened a factory in Arlington, now operating in Sterling 71 years later. Appears to be about to sign something. (Automated Signature Technology)
Robert M. De Shazo Jr. Devised and patented his autopen machine in Alexandria in 1942, later opened a factory in Arlington, now operating in Sterling 71 years later. Appears to be about to sign something. (Automated Signature Technology)

new, and dates to Thomas Jefferson’s days, but De Shazo patented the particular technology that more precisely duplicated one’s signature, company spokesman Dave Scarangella said. De Shazo launched his first factory in Arlington, and later moved it to Oakgrove Road in Sterling, just east of Route 28.

The autopen gained notoriety recently when President Obama admitted to using it for various presidential signatures, such as reauthorizing the Patriot Act (which some Republicans challenged on grounds that it was just weird). The Justice Department in 2005 ruled it was acceptable for official presidential use, and they are reportedly in use all over Capitol Hill. It seems like virtually every president since Truman has used one, and with all the “Congratulations on your 32nd wedding anniversary” and “Thanks for the carefully whittled shoehorn” letters that presidents and dignitaries send out, an autopen just makes sense.

De Shazo first started the International Autopen Company, and his offspring run Automated Signature in Sterling today. But company spokesman Dave Scarangella says they absolutely will not tell you who has their machines or how many are out there, to protect confidentiality. As Northern Virginia Magazine put it, “The first rule of autopen is don’t talk about autopen.” Read Buzz’s piece here. And here’s some video showing the autopen in action.

 

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.
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Mark Berman | September 15, 2013