History of the ballpoint pen
Fountain pens were in use for hundreds of years, but they were messy. The invention of the ballpoint pen changed all that. The development of the modern ballpoint pen took decades, with each step adding necessary improvements. But it started with an American, John J Loud, who had the first patent for a ballpoint pen back in 1888. The device was deemed to have no commercial value and the patent eventually lapsed.
Then came Laszlo Biro, who made the first “birome” in Argentina in 1943. The Royal Air Force (RAF)bought 30,000 because the pens could be used by air crew at high altitude. Then in 1945 American businessman Milton Reynolds made enough changes to sidestep Biro’s patent and brought it to market. It was, almost instantly, a must-have accessory. As Time magazine reported, “thousands of people all but trampled one another last week to spend $12.50 each for a new fountain pen”, noting that it only needed refilling once every two years. That was a problem, though, because people bought refills, but they didn’t buy more pens.
Michel Bich, an Italian-born French industrialist, solved that problem and designed a cheaper and disposable pen with his company The Bic Boy. Whereas the first ballpoint pens in the UK cost around 55 shillings (£82.50, or $161.20, in 2020 prices) the Bic’s biros only cost you a shilling. The billions upon billions of cheap ballpoint pens made since the 1950s have another lasting legacy, however, creating an enormous amount of plastic waste. (Via BBC)
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