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Sunday, 30 September 2012


Whilst working with a magazine, Hungarian journalist Laszlo José Biró (1899-1985) noticed that the ink used in newspaper printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge-free. He tried using the same ink in a fountain pen but found that it would not flow into the tip. Eventually Biró had the idea of replacing the nib with a metal ball which delivered the ink more evenly.

Biró kept the patent for the world's first ballpoint pen, his estate (he died in 1985) would be worth billions. As it happened, Biró sold the patent to one Baron Bich of France in 1945 and it soon became the main product of his Bic company.

The success of the biro was helped by it’s being offered to Royal Air Force airmen in the Second World War as it didn't leak at high altitudes.

Bíró moved to Argentina to develop his invention and he died in Buenos Aires in 1985.

Birome advertisement in Argentine magazine Leoplán, 1945. Wikipedia Commons

Argentina's Inventor's Day is celebrated on Bíró's birthday, September 29th.

American entrepreneur Milton Reynolds came across a Bíró ballpoint pen during a business trip to Buenos Aires. Recognizing commercial potential, he purchased several ballpoint samples, returned to the United States, and founded Reynolds International Pen Company.

His product Reynolds' Rocket ballpoint pens went on sale at Gimbels department store in New York City on October 29, 1945 for $12.95, the equivalent of $164 today. Reynolds advertised it as the pen "to write under water." It was immediately successful: $100,000 worth sold the first day on the market.

Bíró was responsible for several other inventions, including a lock, a heat-proof tile, and a device for recording blood pressure.

Biró's name is pronounced to rhyme with “hero” not “giro."

The Frenchman Marcel Bich (1914-94) took over the invention in 1958 and created a disposble version, the Bic.

Research in 2008 revealed that the average Bic ballpoint can draw a line three kilometers long.

China produced over 38 billion ballpoint pens in 2016—80 percent of the world's pen production.

Ballpoint pens are widely referred to as "biro" in many English-speaking countries, including the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

On average, 100 people choke to death on ball-point pens every year.

Today around 14 million Bic "Biros" are sold every day, perhaps making the pen the world's most successful gadget.

Sources The Independent 3/11/07

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