Ballpoint Pen: History of the Invention

The first step was taken in 1888, when the American inventor John Laud received a patent for an ink pen capable of writing “on rough surfaces - such as wood, rough wrapping paper and others”, without clinging to pen irregularities. The pen itself was absent - ink was supplied to the surface by a “marking sphere”, which was supported by a number of smaller balls. The design was complex, and, apparently, was never implemented. Over the next 40 years, more than 300 patents were issued for such designs, but they all had serious drawbacks: ink flowed out, balls were clogged ...

In 1938, the journalist Laszlo Biro and his brother George, a chemist who later emigrated to Argentina, were the first to conclude that ball designs require very special inks: on the one hand, they must dry very quickly on paper, on the other, not freeze on the ball itself, so as not to interfere with its rotation. Laszlo, taking a quick-drying ink as a sample, with the help of his brother, developed two-component inks consisting of pigment and glycerin, which was quickly absorbed by paper. Thick ink was delivered to the recording unit using a spring-loaded piston and capillary effect.

The pen of the Biro brothers, produced by their Argentine company Eterpen since 1943, turned out to be quite successful. In 1944, the United Kingdom bought a license for its production, where these pens under the Biro brand perfectly proved themselves in the Royal Air Force (fountain pens constantly flowed at a height). Eterpen licensed the design to Eversharp and Eberhard Faber, which were preparing to enter the US market with the Eversharp CA (Capillary Action) handle when businessman Milton Reynolds intervened. He realized the market potential of the pen as soon as he saw it on the table during negotiations with the manager of a Chicago department store in 1945. In just four months, with the help of engineer William Hurnerhart, he redesigned the pen to circumvent Biro’s patents (instead of the capillary effect, he proposed a different solution: a thin tank, open on one side, from where the paste was supplied to the ball by gravity), and put it on sale earlier than the official manufacturer did. In less than a year, 2 million Reynolds Rocket pens were sold. Then competitors entered the market and the “Ballpoint Pen War” began - advertising, patent and price. By 1950, pens worth less than a dollar flooded the market, and their poor quality for a short time even led to the return of "feathers." However, in the 1960s, under the onslaught of technological progress, fountain pens nevertheless lost their positions, this time for good.

The article “Ball hegemony” was published in the journal Popular Mechanics (No. 3, March 2012).


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