In today's modern world, ballpoint pens are a common writing device. In fact, the Bic Company sells an estimated 57 pens every second. However, the invention of the ballpoint pen occurred over a number of decades with more than one inventor contributing to the effort.
The name ballpoint pen comes from the tiny ball located in the writing implement's tip, which allows users to make ink marks on paper. Once pen manufacturers slide the ball into the device's socket, the mechanism is free to roll around in the end of the unit. Pen producers often manufacture the ball from materials like steel, brass or tungsten carbide. In addition, ballpoint pens include a thin tube to hold the device's ink supply while an attachment cylinder connects the ink source to the socket section and the ball. An outer tube holds the many pen elements together. With the ballpoint pen design, manufacturers must use a thick and sticky ink since a thin formula would cause them to leak.
Pen consumers may choose a refillable or disposable pen. In most cases, disposable pens feature plastic construction, and users throw them away once they've used the pen's entire supply of ink. When consumers purchase a refillable pen, they should expect a higher cost. However, they can replace the ink and continue using the main writing implement.
The ballpoint pen comes from the fountain pen, which features a pointed tip along with a tube and an internal container of ink. With the creation of the fountain pen, users no longer had to dip the pen's tip into the ink to write. The fountain pen and the dip pen both featured a considerable ink disadvantage as the substance dried quickly. It also smeared and ran. Therefore, people needed a better writing instrument.
In 1888, John J. Loud became the first inventor to receive a pen patent. His vocation was as a leather tanner, and he created a pen with an ink supply and a roller ball that he used for writing on leather hides. Unfortunately, Loud's creation never made it to production because the ink was hard for users to control, and the pens emitted unintentional inkblots. They were also prone to clogging and leaking.
Laszlo Biro was the first person to market a ballpoint pen. His career as a journalist inspired the invention as Biro noticed that newspaper ink did not smear. At the time, he was frustrated by the fountain pen he was using since he had to keep refilling the ink and removing ink blotches. In addition, the sharp end of his fountain pen often tore through the paper.
Laszlo began working with his brother, Georg, and the two men created a pen design using a pressurized ink cartridge along with a ball bearing in the tip, which encouraged the thick ink to move through it. While taking a trip near the ocean, the brothers met the president of Argentina, and after showing him their new pen, he encouraged them to open a factory in his country. The Biro brothers decided to take his advice with the start of World War II.
They found several investors to finance their pen, and in 1943, the brothers had their plant set up for production. Sadly, their invention failed because of the same problem earlier inventors came across, which was gravity. The ink required gravity to slide down to the roller ball. While using the Biro brother's pen, writers had to hold the device straight up. Moreover, the ink flow remained heavy and caused smudges. They went back to work and developed a rough ball on the end of the pen. The rough ball design gathered ink and prevented most blotches. Also, with the new design, people could write at a slant.
A number of American pilots visited Argentina during the war and liked the Biro brother's pen because they could write at high altitudes without requiring an ink refill. As a result, the United States Department of State asked several American pen producers to create a comparable product.
The Eberhard Farber Company bought the rights to the ballpoint pen. However, the company did not put it into production right away since the invention still suffered from multiple problems.
Milton Reynolds was vacationing in Argentina when he came across the Biro pen, and the Chicago salesman became inspired to invent his own writing mechanism. Reynolds discovered that a number of the early pen patents were expired. Therefore, he felt confident that he wouldn't face legal action with his pen creation. Reynolds used Biro's basic designs to make his pen and marketed the product to Gimbels department store. Consequently, the retailer became the nation's first department store to sell ballpoint pens.
Reynolds opened a factory and hired 300 workers to begin making his aluminum pens. The pens were successful, and Reynolds gained plenty of wealth. During the mid-1940s, the ballpoint pen competition heated up, and several pen companies entered the market. As the companies fought for dominance, they began offering advanced features. For instance, Reynolds claimed that his ballpoint pen was capable of writing underwater, and to verify his claim, he hired Esther Williams, the famous actress and swimmer, to confirm the pen's ability.
Other ballpoint pen manufacturers asserted that their writing devices included notable features like writing while held upside down and writing through ten carbon copies. Unfortunately, consumers soon discovered that the early ballpoint pens had numerous flaws and sales faltered. With plummeting sales, ballpoint pen manufacturers began dropping their prices. In fact, companies sold them for just 19 cents.
Two men were ultimately responsible for the basic ballpoint pen that consumers see on store shelves today. The first ballpoint pen redistributor was Patrick J Frawley Jr. After Frawley met an unemployed chemist from a ballpoint pen factory named Fran Seech, he started his own pen company. While unemployed, Seech worked on a new ink design for the pens, and once Frawley saw his work, he purchased the formula.
A year later, Frawley began selling a new ballpoint pen featuring a retractable tip and ink that did not smear. The pen manufacturer had to invent a creative selling technique because many consumers were suspicious of the ballpoint pen's usability after the device's earlier failings. To sell his pens, Frawley told his sales staff to force their way into the executive offices of retailers and write all over an executive's shirt. The salesman then told the administrator that he would replace the shirt if it remained stained. The shirts came clean, and Frawley's pens sold.
The second man who successfully produced ballpoint pens was Marcel Bich. As a French manufacturer of pen accessories, he saw the potential of the Biro brother's ballpoint pen attempts. Bich agreed to pay the brothers a royalty on their patent and began studying the design. After two years, Bich released his ballpoint pen version, which featured smooth writing capabilities without leaking. It was also inexpensive. He named his pen the Ballpoint Bic.
Ballpoint pens are handy devices that most people use on a daily basis. By appreciating their complex history, pen users will marvel that such a simple device took so many years to come to fruition.