Trailblazer of the Day | Thursday, September 26, 2013
Ladislao José Biró (1899-1985) - Invented the ballpoint pen
This week, Argentines celebrate “Inventors’ Day”. Why? They’re commemorating the inventive spirit of Ladislao José Biró, who was born on September 29, 1899, and is best known as the man who revolutionized the way we write.
Born and raised in Hungary, Biró was a newspaper editor who was frustrated at how long it took to refill fountain pens and how long ink took to dry on a page. Inspired by quick-drying ink used on printing presses, he recalled an idea of a tanner named John Loud to mark holes for a leather punch. The concept was simple: use a brass ball in a socket at the nub of the pen. As the pen moved, the ball would rotate, picking up ink from a cartridge or reservoir inside the instrument.
Using basic principles of gravity and capillary action, Biró and his chemist brother György developed a thicker, viscous ink and redesigned Loud’s ball-in-socket system. They presented a prototype at the 1931 Budapest International Fair and patented the idea in 1938.
As war clouds grew over Europe, the Biró brothers fled to Argentina and became citizens. Ladislao Biró refined the pen’s design, obtained a new patent in Argentina and began mass production at a firm called “Biro, Meyne, Biro”, later called “Biró Pens of Argentina”. The name “Biró” became synonymous with the product; to this day, pens in many Latin American countries are called “biromes” (a combining of the names “Biró” and “Meyne”.
The new writing instrument was used by the Royal Air Force in World War II. In 1945, Italian industrialist Marcel Bich bought Biró’s patent and began mass production. In 1953, Bich shortened his company’s name to Bic.
Ladislao José Biró was a tireless tinkerer, inventing an early version of the automobile automatic transmission box and a steam-powered washing machine. He was a painter and never gave up his roots as an investigative journalist. But he will always be remembered as the man behind the “invention which changed the way we write”.