László Bíró – Inventor of Modern Ballpoint Pen

Picture Of Laszlo Biro 1978

Bíró László József (1899 - 1985) was the inventor of the ballpoint pen as we know it today. Bíró László was born in Budapest, Hungary. He worked as an editor in Hungarian newspapers Hongrie-Magyarország-Hungary. While writing he had problem with ink from fountain pens because it dried slowly and often smudge. He also noticed that the ink used in newspaper printing presses dried quickly and didn’t smudge. He tried filling printing ink in a fountain pen to use it for writing but the ink was too viscous and it would clog the pen. So the ink was good but the pen had to change. Idea for a pen came from a 40 years old invention of John J. Loud, inventor from Weymouth, Massachusetts. Loud patented a pen that had a relatively large metal ball at the point and was intended for use on surfaces that classical dip pen could not be used, especially leather. This pen was not suitable for writing, had no commercial value and patent lapsed in time. General idea was used by Bíró László and his brother György who was a chemist. They together experimented and tried to make new type of pen. They combined a new type of viscous ink and a ball-socket mechanism with a smaller ball, this time, which prevented ink from drying inside the pen and controlled the flow of ink. Ball was placed in a socket at the tip of the pen but it could rotate freely, collect ink from the reservoir and leavi it as a mark on the surface across which it is dragged. They presented their pen at the Budapest International Fair in 1931 and patented it in 1938. In 1941 the Bíró brothers (being Jewish at the begining of the Second World War) and a friend, Juan Jorge Meyne, fled to Argentina. They formed there Bíró Pens of Argentina and filed a new patent in 1943. They sold their pen in Argentina under the name Birome (which comes from Bíró and Meyne) and even today ballpoint pens are known in Argentina as Birome.

During the Second World War, United Kingdom likened manufacture of Biro ballpoint pens for use in airplanes. Royal Air Force aircrew used them because they don’t leak on high altitudes and low pressures like fountain pens.

Marcel Bich, manufacturer from France, bought the patent from Bíró for the ballpoint pen in 1950. It soon became the main products of his Bic Company. Bíró László died in Buenos Aires in 1985 and Argentina celebrates Inventors' Day on his birthday, 29 September.

Today many manufacturers make ballpoint pens that work on the same principle invented by Bíró and ballpoint pen is even called “biro” in many countries like UK, Ireland, Australia and Italy in a form of generic trademark. Ballpoint pens generally replaced fountain pens because they are easier to use, they don’t leak and they don’t demand special maintenance. They can be made from cheap materials and sold for a low price and because of that, they are available to everyone.