Back in 1943, on 10 June, a patent was filed by the Hungarian Biro brothers, Laszlo and George, for a new type of writing instrument – the ball-point pen. The Biro’s weren’t the first to come up with the idea of a pen using a roller-ball mechanism to distribute ink in a controlled manner (the first patent for a similar instrument was issued in 1888 already, and the Biro’s also filed an earlier patent in 1939), but their 1943 design was the one that proved commercially viable. Once they’d refined their design, they started marketing the pens in Argentina.
The new ball-point pens quickly caught the attention of the British Royal Air Force – they were sturdier than traditional fountain pens, and they also worked at higher altitudes. Proving their toughness with the Royal Air Force, Biro pens became widely used by the military during World War II.
Bic bought out the Biro brothers’ patent in 1950, and has since sold in excess of 100 billion ball-point pens. The Bic ball-point pen has become so ubiquitous that the term ‘bic pen’ has come to be used as the catch-all term when referring to disposable ball-point pens in general.
Some of the more interesting recent achievements in the continued development of the ball-point pen include the rollerball pen, which combine the basic ball-point design with the use of liquid ink similar to fountain pens, and so-called space pens, which combine highly viscous ball-point pen ink with a gas-pressured piston mechanism forcing the ink toward the point. This allows the pen to write upside down or in zero gravity environments.
It’s hard to imagine life without the trusty old ball-point. With disposable pens having become a popular branding/marketing hand-out, I haven’t had to buy a pen in over 10 years and there always seems to be one handy wherever I am in the house… or car… or office… 🙂