The riveting story of the invention of the Ballpoint Pen:
It is hard to believe, but prior to October 29th, 1945 the only writing instruments available were pencils and fountain pens. Lewis Waterman invented the practical fountain pen in 1884. Relatively quickly thereafter users began imagining and working on a version of a pen that would be less likely to smudge ink. Those ideas and failed inventions lead to the development of the modern ballpoint pen. Inventors around the world began developing the ball-and-socket technology. An American banker named John L. Loud received a patent on a less-than-perfect version as early as 1888.
Generally however, the Hungarian brothers László and György Bíró are credited with inventing the pen we still use today. László, is credited with the invention, he was a journalist who thought to use newspaper ink in pens and thereby eliminated the characteristic smudging of fountain pens. His chemist brother, György, helped him perfect the ink for the ball-and-socket technology. In 1938, László Bíró signed a deal with his early backer and business partner, Andor Goy, to produce and sell the pens in Hungary, but tensions were rising as World War II loomed on the horizon, Bíró was forced to flee with his family, even selling off his shares of the fledgling company to fund their travel. Bíró landed in Argentina, where he finally filed for a patent on his ballpoint pen. The patent was awarded on June 10, 1943, the anniversary of which is celebrated as National Ballpoint Pen Day—but the story didn’t end there.
Henry Martin, an English accountant living in South America, offered to back Bíró’s project, which he thought might be of military interest. Unlike the traditional nib pens, which leaked in flight, Martin believed the ballpoint pens would work just as well in the air as they did on land, making them the perfect solution for a nagging air force issue. Martin demonstrated the ballpoint’s ability for the Royal Air Force in London and the U.S. Air Force in Washington, D.C. Both were impressed, and the pens went into production for the military. When the War ended ballpoint pens would go into commercial production. In June 1945 Milton Reynolds, a Chicago huckster who had made and lost several fortunes, saw a display of Biro pens in Buenos Aires. He hurried home and discovered to his joy that a similar pen had been patented by one John Loud of Weymouth, Massachusetts, in 1888. The ballpoint concept was in the public domain.
On Oct. 29, 1945, the Reynolds pen became the first-ever modern ballpoint pen sold in the U.S at Manhattan’s Gimbel Bros., Inc., thousands of people all but trampled one another to spend $12.50 each ($170 today) on the new revolutionary pen. The pen was made by Chicago’s Reynolds International Pen Co. In full-page ads, Gimbel’s hailed it as the “fantastic, atomic era, miraculous pen.” It had a tiny ball bearing instead of a point, was guaranteed to need refilling only once every two years, would write under water, on paper, cloth, plastic or blotters. Gimbel’s had ordered 50,000 pens to stock and sold 30,000 of them in that first week.
Other competitors soon followed, despite back-and-forth lawsuits between Reynolds, Eversharp and other manufacturers and distributors. Reynolds’ first-mover advantage paid off. In just six months, Reynolds had about $5.6 million in sales. Within months his $26,000 investment had turned into a fortune. The pens flew off the shelves, but they were junk. Air bubbles blocked the dye, ball bearings malfunctioned, and dye came out in blobs or even fermented, causing the pens to explode. To the horror of bankers and attorneys, the dye tended to disappear when exposed to light. The Reynolds was called the only pen that would produce eight carbons and no original. By the spring of 1946 Reynolds had sold two million pens, of which more than a hundred thousand were returned. The Reynolds Pen company went out of business within a few years.
By the time Reynolds was going out of business, Parker had invented their revolutionary ballpoint refill, and the rest is history. Sadly, Bíró never got rich off his invention. He fared better than Goy—who had remained behind in Hungary, where he became embroiled in a number of costly lawsuits when the country nationalized his company—but in 1945, he sold the patent to Marcel Bich, who founded Bic pens. However, his role in the ballpoint pen’s conception lives on with the celebration of Inventors Day on his birthday, September 29, in Argentina, and in the word for “pen” in Argentina: birome.
Help us celebrate the National Ballpoint Pen Day at Bittner, and check out our all Ballpoint Back Shelf! Also, in honor of the day take 10% off any ballpoint not already discounted on the site with the coupon code: NATBPDAY
Did you know that Americans alone throw away over 1.6 Billion disposable pens a year alone?! Help us keep plastic out of the landfills and oceans and put a real pen in your pocket. Visit Bittner, The Pleasure of Writing, the mecca for ballpoint pens in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California
Lily Rothman, Oct.29th Time article http://time.com/4083274/ballpoint-pen/
The Origin Story of the Ballpoint pen, Hannah Keyser, Mental Floss http://mentalfloss.com/article/64958/origin-story-ballpoint-pen
Reynolds History www.jamepreynolds.com