Share on Tumblr

Quick, write something down for me. Anything really… I’ll wait.

Chances are if you followed my instructions you picked up a nearby ballpoint pen to write “Team Jacob” on your arm. I’m sure you’ve used them more times than you can count. You might have nervously chewed on one, “accidentally” walked off with someone else’s, or let loose a few choice words after you realized one was leaking on your clothes.

But during all these times, you probably never fully considered the unassuming little implement, or fully appreciated how effectively, and cheaply, it traces out its small marks. The ballpoint pen effectively destroyed the venerable fountain pen, and made the act of writing a far neater and easier experience. 

Ball Point MagnifiedYou also probably didn’t realize that the invention of the humble ballpoint pen was plagued by dead-ends and failures worthy of film noir. A staggering 350 patents were filed for pens with rotating ball tips before the first one ever landed in a customer’s hand.

Our story begins in Europe on the verge of war. Hungarian brothers Laszlo and George Biro, spurred on by their problems with using fountain pens, experimented with many designs until they made something resembling the modern ballpoint. Then, a chance encounter with Argentinian President Agustino Justo gave them the opportunity of a lifetime. The two fled from Nazi Germany to Argentina in 1940 and created the Biro brand pen there.

What should have been the ballpoint’s triumphant debut was actually a bust. The gravity-fed pens had to be held upright, and the ink flow was inconsistent. Enter Britain’s Royal Air Force. Britain’s flyboys not only saved the isles from the German air force, they also saved the Biro brothers when they bought the rights to the design. It turned out the ballpoint design was a prime choice for writing at altitude, where fountain pens were more likely to leak in your afternoon tea than plot a clean line to Dusseldorf.

Parts of a Ball Point PenThe humble ballpoint’s first arrival in America was like the unveiling of a new iPad. In 1945, thousands gathered at New York’s Gimbels department store to buy the Reynolds Rocket, and forked over $9.75 for the privilege. If that sounds a bit steep for a single ballpoint, keep in mind this the equivalent of over $116 in today’s money. 

Prices went down as more pen makers entered the fray. The Paper Mate brand got its start selling ballpoints. Salesmen pushed the pens by barging, Mad Men style, into retail store offices and scribbling on the shirts of the executives. If the ink didn’t wash out, they would buy them a new shirt.  

In Britain and Argentina, you can still find pens labeled with the Biro Brand. In America we know this brand as Bic, named after Frenchman Marcel Bich (stop giggling, it’s pronounced “beesh”). Monsieur Bich bought the rights from the brothers and developed the clear, smooth, and cheap Bic we know today.

 Brio Pen / Issue 124 - September 7177
Turnpage Blk

Home | Links | Advertise With Us | Who We Are | Message From The Editor | Privacy & Policy

Connect with Dish Magazine:
Find us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter


Copyright (c) 2013, Smash Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Smash Media Group, Inc. is prohibited.
Use of Dishmag and Dish Magazine are subject to certain Terms and Conditions.
Please read the Dishmag and Dish Magazine Privacy Statement. We care about you!