Ballpoint Pens: Writing the Future

Carlos Delgado Four blue, red, black and green BIC pens and four pen caps.
Four blue, red, black and green BIC pens and four pen caps. (Photo by Carlos Delgado via Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1943, a patent for the ballpoint pen was awarded to Laszlo Biro.

Here are some things you may not have known about the world’s most-used writing implement.

Biro’s patent wasn’t the first for the concept. In 1888, John J. Loud of Massachusetts patented a pen to write on wood, leather and other surfaces that common fountain pens had problems with. The pen worked for its intended purpose, but was too coarse for letter writing. That patent would eventually lapse.

The ballpoint pen is made up of two main parts: The reservoir and the metal writing point. The ball point, today usually made of tungsten carbide, rotates between the reservoir and the writing surface, conveying the ink.

Biro was a newspaper editor in Hungary, who noticed that newspaper ink dried faster than fountain-pen ink. He and his brother designed a pen to use the same type of ink. The ink also allowed them to be used more consistently at high altitude, making them useful to the Royal Air Force during World War II.

Following the war, the pens were released for sale in the United States, where they debuted at Gimbels department store in New York City for $12.50 each. Eventually the market was saturated and the pens faded in popularity.

Paper Mate and Parker Pens started making ballpoint pens in the 1950s. Also in that decade, the Bic company debuted its Cristal ballpoint pen. The Cristal’s design became so iconic that it is on display as part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Our question, In what country is Bic based?

Today is Portugal Day, Army Day in Jordan and Navy Day in Italy.

It’s National Iced Tea Day and National Marriage Day.

It’s the birthday of actress Hattie McDaniel, who was born in 1893, writer Maurice Sendak, who was born in 1928; and Britain’s Prince Philip, who is 95 today.

Because our topic happened before 1960, we’ll spin the wheel to pick a year at random.

This week in 1966, the top song in the U.S. was “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge.

The No. 1 movie was “The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming,” while the novel “Valley of the Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann topped the New York Times Bestsellers list.


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