The first time I ever saw a ballpoint pen was in 1947, and it was taped to a can of Folgers Coffee. My parents had never tried Folgers Coffee before, but the pen so intrigued my father that he decided to switch brands.
That particular ballpoint pen was fat and stubby looking, and often clogged and took some shaking before you could continue writing, but we thought it was a most wonderful invention. The ink used in it lasted for months, and whatever you wrote with it was dry as soon as it landed on your paper. No more fountain pens to fill, no more spilled bottles of ink, and, for me, a left-handed person, no more messy smearing when I tried to write a report for an English assignment.
Just recently, I went on an infrequent frenzy of house-cleaning and found 37 ballpoint pens in my house. Hard to believe, but true. Forgotten ballpoint pens in desk drawers, shelves, bookcases, and even a few in the crevices of an easy chair in our living room. Unfortunately, most of them no longer worked, having been there so long, I suspect, that the ink in them had calcified, or whatever unused ink does after several years of immobilization. I trashed the lot of them.
Anyway, all those pens got me to thinking of that first ballpoint pen, taped to the can of Folgers Coffee, and to wondering who invented them in the first place so I did a little research on the subject.
According to Wikipedia, ballpoint pens have a tip consisting of a ball that is free to turn in a socket. As the ball turns it picks up ink from a cartridge and then rolls to deposit it, dry, on paper.
Laszlo Biro is credited with inventing the ballpoint pen. A Hungarian journalist, sculptor, hypnotist, and inventor, Mr. Biro got tired of frequently having to refill his fountain pen and with having to wait for the ink to dry before placing anything on top of his writing.
After a visit to a printer Laszlo noticed that the ink the printer was using did not need blotting to dry it after printing took place, and it gave him an idea for a new type of pen, so, with the help of his brother, Georg Biro, who was a chemist, they made their first ballpoint pen in 1935 while still living in Hungary. Laszlo didn’t get around to patenting his invention until 1943 some time after he had moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina..
In a 2008 Sunday Mirror article, Dennis Ellam writes that while living in Buenos Aires, Laszlo met Henry Martin, an English inventor and businessman who recognized that the pen might be quite valuable to airmen in high altitude situations where ordinary pens wouldn’t work.
Martin acquired limited rights from Biro to produce the pen in England, and in 1945, the Eterpen Company in Buenos Aires began commercial production of the pen using Biro’s patents and giving the Eversharp Company exclusive rights to distribute it. The original ballpoint pens sold for $12.50 each.
The International Pen Company, founded by Chicago businessman Milton Reynolds, copied the pen and managed to sell $100,000 worth of pens on the first day, but the novelty of the new pens began to wear off when careless manufacturing resulted in them not living up to their marketing claims.
In an informative article by Mary Bellis, “A Brief History of Writing Instruments,” we see that ballpoint pens have gone through many changes over the years. The earliest models were stubby and not really comfortable to hold. The ink sometimes clogged and a lot of experimenting took place before they found just the right consistency of ink to work well under all conditions.
Felt tip pens became popular in the 1960’s, but many features of the felt-tip pen have now been combined with those of the ballpoint pen to make what is called the roller ballpoint pen.
An erasable ball-point pen was developed in the late 1970’s and works quite well if you don’t wait too long to make your corrections. After a day or two though, the ink sets, and the eraser may not be able to do its job.
Both Eversharp and the Reynolds Company failed and went out of business, but Parker Pens decided to get into the market and, by introducing ballpoint pens made with tungsten carbide, the reliability of the pens improved and sales once again soared. The Parker ballpoint pen was selling for $6.00.
Unfortunately for Parker Pens, about that time, the BIC Company, founded by Marcel Bich and operating in a number of European countries, began to spread into the North American markets and completely overshadowed the Parker Company. Today, throughout the world, BIC sells approximately 20 million ballpoint pens every day at an average price between $.30 and $.69.
Who could pass up a bargain like that?
Anonymous – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballpoint_pen – Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia
Dennis Ellam – http://www.mirror.co.uk/sunday-mirror/2008/05/25/exclusive-70-years-of-the-ballpoint-pen-and-the-inventor-behind-it-98487-20428305/ – The Sunday Mirror Newspaper
Mary Billis – http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa101697.htm – About.com.Inventors