Ladislao José Biro: Five things you might not know about the inventor of the pen

The ballpoint pen was borne after Biro noticed the speed at which newspapers were printed and how quickly the ink dried

Alexandra Sims
Wednesday 28 September 2016 22:58
5 facts you may not know about the inventor of the pen

Although his name may not be immediately familiar, Ladislao José Biro’s world-famous invention – the ballpoint pen - now used by millions across the world certainly is.

Described as “a simple but remarkable invention” by the Wall Street Journal, the ballpoint pen was borne after Biro, the Jewish-Hungarian journalist and artist whose name is now synonyms with his creation, noticed the speed at which newspapers were printed and how quickly the ink dried.

It was an invention, however “convulsed by death and destruction” the Journal said, as Biro experimented with his concept during the outbreak of WW2 in Europe as he was forced to flee Nazi forces.

Here are five facts you may not know about the inventor and his invention on what would be his 117th birthday.

1)The ballpoint pen was inspired by the newspaper printing press

As a newspaper editor in Budapest, Biro, born in 1899, became aware of how efficiently newspapers were printed and how fast the ink dried compared to the then-ubiquitous fountain pen.

Frustrated by the fountain pen’s smudged and blotted results and unable to get more viscous fast-drying ink to pour through its nib, Biro worked with his brother György, a chemist, to create radical new type of pen, which rolled ink onto paper in a similar fashion to a newsprint roller.

The pair created a pen consisting of a ball that turned in a socket, which picked up a thin, fast-drying film of ink from a cartridge and transferred it onto paper.

Giving his name to the invention, Biro presented his first prototype of the ballpoint pen at the Budapest International Fair in 1931, later patenting it in 1938.

2)Biro was forced to flee Nazi forces as he experimented with his invention

Born into a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary, Biro was forced to flee the country just two years after he patented invention when Nazi forces occupied his home country in 1940.

György Moldova’s book Ballpoint, chronicling the life of Bíró, says: “We see Bíró refining the pen and experimenting with recipes for the ink paste essential to his concept while fleeing dangers that seemed to chase him across Europe as war brewed and then broke out.”

After escaping Hungary, Biro travelled to Argentina where he found support to turn the Biro into a commercial product.


3) WW2 saw the first major buyers for the pen

The Royal Air Force became the first major buyers of the ballpoint pen with the organisation ordering 30,000 of the devices during WW2.

The pen was popular with pilots as they were able to operate at high altitudes unlike fountain pens.

4) Biro’s birthday is celebrated as Inventors Day

In Argentina, where Biro began mass producing his ballpoint pens his birthday – 29 September – is celebrated as Inventor’s Day.

Biro died in the country in Buenos Aires in 1985, aged 86.

5) Biros are the most popular pen in the world

In 1945, Marcel Bich bought the patent for Biro's pen, which swiftly became the Bic company’s main product.

The Bic Cristal biro is now the world’s most popular pen and Biro’s name remains synonymous with his invention in many countries throughout Europe.

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