How a simple ballpoint pen conquered the world

(ORDO NEWS) — On the morning of October 29, 1945, thousands of people lined up outside the Gimbels department store in New York.

People were waiting for the store to open to buy, as the New York Times ad described, “a wonderful, fantastic pen that’s guaranteed not to need to be refilled for two years.”

Within a day, the department store sold out its entire stock of 10,000 pens at $12.50 each. So on the wave of success, the ballpoint pen entered history, quickly gaining dominance in the writing instrument market.

The first step towards this 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 the unevenness of the pen.

Actually there was no pen – the ink was applied to the surface of the “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 flaws: ink leaked out, balls clogged …

In 1938, the journalist Laszlo Biro and his brother George, a chemist who later emigrated to Argentina, were the first to come to the conclusion that a very special ink was required for the ball design: on the one hand, they must dry very quickly on paper, on the other hand, they must not harden on paper. the ball itself, so as not to interfere with its rotation.

Laszlo, taking fast-drying printing ink as a model, with the help of his brother developed a two-component ink consisting of pigment and glycerin, which was quickly absorbed by paper. Thick ink was supplied to the writing unit using a spring-loaded piston and capillary effect.

The Biro brothers pen, produced by their Argentine company Eterpen since 1943, turned out to be quite successful. In 1944, the UK bought a license for its production, where these pens under the Biro brand proved to be excellent in the Royal Air Force (fountain pens constantly leaked at height).

Eterpen licensed the design to Eversharp and Eberhard Faber, who were preparing to enter the US market with the Eversharp CA (Capillary Action) pen 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 one of the Chicago department stores in 1945.

In just four months, with the help of engineer William Hurnergart, he redesigned the handle to circumvent Biro’s patents (instead of the capillary effect, he proposed a different solution: a thin reservoir, open on one side.

In less than a year, 2 million Reynolds Rocket pens were sold. Then competitors entered the market, and the “War of ballpoint pens” began – advertising, patent and price.

By 1950, sub-dollar pens flooded the market, and their poor quality even led to the return of “nibs” for a short time. However, in the 1960s, under the onslaught of technological progress, fountain pens still lost their positions, this time for good.


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