The ballpoint pen: the story of its invention

Posted on Jan 19, 2021      77

On the morning of October 29, 1945, thousands of people lined up at the door of the Gimbels department store in New York City. People were waiting for the store to open so they could buy, as a New York Times advertisement described it, "a wonderful pen that is guaranteed not to need refilling for two years". Within a day, the department store sold out its entire stock of 10,000 pens at $12.5 each. Thus, on the wave of success, the ballpoint pen made history, quickly gaining dominance of the writing instrument market.

It took the first step towards this in 1888, when American inventor John Laud received a patent for an ink pen capable of writing “on rough surfaces such as wood, rough wrapping paper.” without the pen clinging to irregularities. There was no pen proper - they supplied the ink to the surface by a “marking sphere” several smaller balls supported which. The design was complicated and apparently was never implemented. Over the next 40 years, over they issued 300 patents on such designs, but they all had serious drawbacks: the ink leaked, the balls got clogged...

In 1938 journalist Laszlo Biro and his brother George, a chemist who later emigrated to Argentina, were the first to understand that the ball design required a very special ink: on the one hand, it should dry on paper very quickly, on the other - it should not solidify on the ball itself so as not to interfere with its rotation. László, taking a sample of quick-drying printing ink, developed, with the help of his brother, a two-component ink comprising pigment and glycerin paper quickly absorbed that. They supplied the thick ink to the writing node by a spring-loaded piston and a capillary effect.

The Biro brothers’ pen, produced since 1943 by their Argentine company Eterpen, turned out to be quite successful. In 1944 Great Britain, where these pens under the Biro brand proved themselves perfectly in the Royal Air Force, bought the license for its production (fountain pens were constantly leaking at altitude). Eterpen licensed the design to Eversharp and Eberhard Faber, who were preparing to enter the American market with the Eversharp CA (Capillary Action) pen when the business executive Milton Reynolds intervened. He realized the market potential of the pen as soon as he saw it on his desk during negotiations with the manager of a Chicago department store in 1945. In just four months, with the help of engineer William Hurnergart, he reworked the pen to circumvent Biro’s patents (instead of the capillary effect; he suggested a unique solution: a thin reservoir open on one side, where the paste was fed to the ball by gravity) and put it on sale before the official manufacturer did.

In less than a year, they sold 2 million Reynolds Rocket pens. Then competitors entered the market, and the “War of the Ballpoint Pens” began. - advertising, patenting, and pricing. By 1950, pens costing less than a dollar had flooded the market, and their poor quality briefly even led to the return of “fountain pens.” However, in the 1960s, under the onslaught of technological advances, fountain pens still gave up their position, this time for good.

Teg:   pen  ink  ball