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Ballpoint Pens - Humble beginnings to the Parker Ballpoint

The ballpoint pen is the most commonly used pen in the world, but what is the story behind it?

It was originally patented by John J. Loud, a leather tanner who wanted an instrument that would be able to write on his leather products in the way fountain and quill pens simply couldn't. This first ballpoint proved to be perfect for leather, but much too coarse for writing on paper with, and the patent soon lapsed.

The ballpoint pen as we know it today was patented by a Hungarian newspaper editor, László Bíró (sound familiar?), who was fed up of cleaning ink spills and wasting paper from quills and fountain pens. Biro saw that newspaper ink dried much faster than normal ink, and enlisted his chemist brother to come up with an ink formula suitable for a ballpoint.

Laszlo Biro

A patent was filed in Britain in 1938, and Bíró's pens were produced for the RAF throughout World War Two as they were more reliable and less prone to leakage at high altitude.

In 1941 Bíró, his Brother and a business partner fled Germany to Argentina, where they formed a new company and started selling their Birome pens. In Argentina, pens are still known as Birome to this day, in the same way British people refer to Biros.

After the war, mechanical pencil maker Eversharp Co licensed the rights from Bíró to sell their pens in America, but at the same time entrepreneur Milton Reynolds brought back some of Bíró's pens, altered the design enough to file for an American patent as a different product and beating Eversharp to the US market.

The 'Reynolds Rocket' ballpoint pen début was at Grimble's department store in New York City on 29 October 1945. It was a huge success with thousands of pens being sold in the first week and beyond, but due to market saturation and lack of consumer interest, Reynold's company folded in 1950.

In 1954 Parker Pens released their first Parker ballpoint - 'The Jotter', which has now become a classic, modern pen. The Jotter could boast technological and mechanical advancements on other ballpoint pens - including the tungsten-carbide ball bearings that were used for the first time in any pen. In it's first year the Parker ballpoint Jotter sold millions to become the iconic ballpoint pen.

vintage parker jotter pens

In the 1950s, a man called Marcel Bich introduced a ballpoint pen from America that was licensed from Bíró and based on his original Argentine designs. Bich shortened his name to Bic in 1953, the name synonymous with pens that we know today, and originally struggled until launching their famous 'Writes the first time, every time!' campaign in the 60s, when it was finally able to compete against competitors like the Parker ballpoint.

 

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