The Ballpoint Pen

The Hungarian Laszlo Biro, a magazine publisher, noticed, during a visit to a printer's, how quickly the printer's ink dried. It occurred to him that this fast-drying ink would work well in a fountain pen. This dense ink, however, would not flow through a pen. Therefore, Biro decided to replace the metal writing nib of his pen with a slim ball bearing. As the pen moved across the paper, the ball turned and suctioned ink from the reservoir, which then transferred it to the paper. This principle of the ballpoint pen was not, however, a new one. It had been patented in the year 1888 by John J. Loud, but had not been used commercially. Biro first patented his pen in the year 1938. In 1940 he and his brother ran away from Hungary to Argentina. There, on the 10 June 1943, he patented his pen again. A clerk of the British government, Henry Martin, who was, by chance, at that time in Argentina, was interested in the fact that Biro's pen wrote at any altitude above sea level, and therefore because it was not affected by air pressure or other atmospheric conditions. it immediately occurred to him to make it available to navigators in airplanes. The British government bought the patent and in 1944 a pen under the brand name Biro was produced for the Royal Air Force. In Argentina the pen was used commercially by the Eterpen Company. In May of 1945 the Eversharp Company obtained an exclusive right to the Biro pen and brought it to market under the brand name Eversharp CA.

A month later the Chicago businessman Milton Reynolds saw this pen at a department store in Buenos Aires. He bought a few samples, returned to the States, and founded the International Pen Company. Four months later, ignoring the patent rights of the Eversharp Company, he sold his pen under the name Reynolds' Rocket in New York. He was immediately successful: on the first day he sold $100,000 worth. In Britain the pen appeared in that year for the Christmas market from Miles-Martin Pen Company. During the next four years, the ballpoint practically drove the classic fountain pen out of the market. But then, sales and price quickly fell: people tired of the novelty and began to assess it more realistically. The ballpoint pen from Reynolds leaked, skipped and was unreliable and the pen manufactured by Eversharp also did not fulfill the promise of its advertising. In 1948, the price dropped from $12.50 to less than 50 cents. The fountain pen again became the only one. Reynolds's firm failed in 1951. Eversharp experienced financial difficulties, tried to return to manufacturing fountain pens and in the 60s finally collapsed..

The battle was won. In January of 1954 Parker Pens introduced its first ballpoint, the Jotter. It wrote reliably and five times longer. In less than a year, Parker sold 3.5 million pens (for an average of $6.00 per pen). In the year 1957, Eversharp's fall continued. Its production of fountain pens profited no one other than Parker. Since that year it has supplied its ballpoints from tungsten carbide (of which it is still made today.).

 But, everything in its time. In 1950 Marcel Bich began to sell his French pen and in 1953 he founded the BiC company (using an abbreviation of his name). In subsequent years its subsidiaries, BIC Italy, BIC LAFREST Spain, BIC Brazil and CIRO Swan Ltd England, were founded. By the end of the 50s it controlled 70% of the European market and in 1960 it became the owner of the Waterman Pen Company in New York and it sold its pens on the North American markets for 29 to 69 cents. The battle was won again. BiC completely controlled the market. Parker and other companies had to rest satisfied with a small market for fountain pens and more expensive models of ballpoints.

Today the modern version of Biro's pen, under the brand name BiC Cristal, sells 20 million pens throughout the world every day.

Two-color BiC Italy.
The four-color model looks similar.

But the history of ballpoints does not end with these exceptional successes. During it's development the ceramic pen, the "roller", developed as well. This filled the gap between the classic fountain pen and the ballpoint and had advantageous characteristics of each: light writing like the fountain pen and simple control during writing. The metal ball was replaced by a ceramic on (which is harder than carbide and is corrosion resistant) and an ink cartridge.

There are also manufacturers, who combine ballpoints with other writing instruments (pencils, styluses, designer pens). Ballpoints combined with lighted diodes have appeared; with these one can write sentences and shine for up to 300 hours. Of course, the future will tell, what is just fashion and advertising copy and what is a true contribution..

Bandi Light Pen with a built-in light
(This picture was taken from the webpage at


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