It’s time to celebrate the disposable, to honor the expendable. On this day, 29 July 1914, Baron Marcel Bich was born – the man who built his business empire on his brilliantly designed and cleverly marketed throwaway Bic pens, lighters and razors.
Bich, together with his friend Edouard Buffard, acquired an old factory where they proceeded to produce a low-cost, reliable ballpoint pen that took the world by storm. Bich based his design on a ballpoint pen manufactured in Argentina by László Bíró, but introduced many design innovations into his pen. His manufacturing innovations also allowed him keep the production costs of the pen down.
Bich invested heavily in advertising, and based on a recommendation from his advertising company, shortened the name of the pen to Bic. The Bic pen was an unprecedented success both in Europe and later in the USA and the rest of the world, and with its slogan of “Writes first time, every time”, it became the main driving force in changing the worldwide market from costly fountain pens to disposable ballpoints.
The industrial design excellence of the the Bic Cristal pen (with its transparent polystyrene barrel and classic pencil shape) has been acknowledged by the New York Museum of Modern Art, where it has been included in its permanent collection. Some of the innovative features of the design is its transparent barrel that shows the ink level of the pen, and a small hole in the barrel to ensure equal air pressure inside and outside the pen.
The Bic pen is said to be the world’s most efficient pen, able to write a line over 2km in length. After more than half a century, the Bic pen remains a top seller, with more than one hundred billion having been sold internationally.
Over time, Bich’s company, Société Bic, diversified its business to include the Bic lighter (1973), followed by the Bic shaver (1976). As in the case of the Bic pen, the Bic lighter has become an icon of modern industrial design, and has also been included in the New York Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. The design of the lighter has remained virtually unchanged since its inception.
Getting back to the Bic pen, one of the most impressive artists I’ve come across lately is Juan Francisco Rosas, who creates huge, incredibly detailed, photo-realistic artworks using nothing but Bic pens – mindblowing, and further testament to the iconic, throwaway Bic pen.