No More Ink Spills: The Ballpoint Pen


This homely little invention is used on a daily basis, even more than computers and the Internet. We received it courtesy of two Hungarian brothers, Georg and Ladislao Biro. Even though they did not perfect the technology, they did indeed succeed in creating what would still be recognized as a ballpoint pen today.

Before the ballpoint pen was invented, people used quill pens dipped in ink or fountain pens, which had to be refilled. In addition to being impractical, these pens were also messy.

Working with a narrow shaft, the Biro brothers inserted a tiny steel ball at the end that was connected to an interior tube filled with ink. This tube worked in much the same way that veins send blood through the body; by constantly keeping the ball at the end moist with ink, thereby allowing the writing to flow unabated.

There was only one major flaw in the original Biro ballpoint pen that needed work. While the ink was distributed evenly, it tended to be a little too moist resulting in smearing. Solving this problem was taken up by a chemist from Austria, Fran Seech. His mission was to ensure that the ink actually dried on contact with the paper, thereby eliminating smearing. Once that was taken care of, it merely became a matter of properly marketing this most useful invention.

If you think you have never written with a Biro pen yourself, you are mistaken. For much of its early history, Biro had made high quality pens, but eventually they were bought out by a French company that realized the wisdom in producing lower quality pens that could be disposed of once the ink dried up. The name of the company that bought Biro was, of course, Bic.

*The article was published in the PSC Newslertter, 2nd School Semester 2010/2011.

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