On this day in history : 22nd November 1946 – The first British Biro ballpoint pen goes on sale…. It was manufactured by a British company but had originally been designed by Hungarian Laszlo Biro….

Biro’s invention – Image credit : Roberto Fiadone – edited by Daniel Schwen – CC BY-SA 2.5

Laszlo, who was a Hungarian-Jewish newspaper editor living in Germany, got frustrated with the amount of time he spent filling up his fountain pen with ink – and then cleaning up the mess afterwards…. He couldn’t help but notice that the ink used for printing newspapers did not smudge and so the paper it was used on stayed dry…. He approached his brother, Gyorgy, who was a chemist, to help him develop an ink that could be used in a pen….

Laszlo Biro circa 1978 – Public domain

The first patent for such a writing instrument had originally been issued in October 1888 to John J Loud – who had wanted something he could write with on coarse surfaces, such as wood, rough paper and leather…. His pen nib had a small rotating steel ball held by a socket…. However, it did not sell commercially and the patent expired…. Further attempts by others to create a reliable ballpoint which delivered ink properly failed – the ink would either be too thin, or would clog…. Very often the ball socket would be too tight, not allowing ink to reach the paper…. But the Biro brothers managed to get the formula just right – and a patent was filed on the 15th of June 1938….

In 1941 the brothers had to flee Germany and the Nazis…. Along with friend Juan Jorge Meyne they went to Argentina – and together they formed Biro Pens of Argentina, with a new patent filed in the US in 1943…. The pens were sold as the Birome in Argentina and are still known by this name there…. Britain soon cottoned on to this revolutionary new pen and started to produce them for use by RAF aircrews – as they could be used at high altitudes – whereas fountain pens leaked even more….

Advert in Argentine magazine ‘Leoplan’, 1945 – Image credit : Revista Leoplan, Argentina, ano 1945 – CC BY-SA 2.5

In 1946 Catalonian firm Vila Sevilla Hermanos began making ballpoint pens in contract with French firm Societe Bic – hence the name Bic-Biro….

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