László Bíró (1899-1985)
The Inventor of the Ballpoint Pen
Everybody is familiar with the ballpoint pen and all over the world
this eminently useful invention has become an indispensable part
of our everyday lives. But how many of us know the story behind
this convenient writing implement or the name of its inventor?
The story begins in the 1880s. At that time several inventors
tried to develop a ballpoint pen but it was the Hungarian, László
Bíró, who created the pen with which we are familiar today László
Bíró was born in Budapest on September 19th, 1899. He gained a place
at the Medical School in Budapest but did not graduate. For a time
he dabbled with hypnosis then he got a job with an oil company as
a clerk responsible for matters relating to customs duties. He also
had a go at motor racing, which provided the stimulus for his next
invention - a new type of gear lever. He was also a successful painter.The
need to invent something like the ballpoint pen arose when he took
up journalism. He was the editor of the journal "Hongrie-Magyarország-Hungary"
and when this was closed down he began working for the newspaper
" Elôtte". As a journalist he was frequently irritated by the difficulties
involved in using a fountain pen and began to think about how he
could replace it with a more convenient writing implement.
Eventually he realised that the technique used in printing by
which a rotary cylinder ensures continuous and uniform application
of the ink could be adapted for use in a pen in such a way that
a slender tube filled with ink with a small ball bearing at the
end would be able to apply the ink continuously to the paper. It
took several years of experimentation, however before the original
idea could be realised in the form of the ballpoint pen, which rapidly
became popular all over the world. Part of this experimentation
was carried out abroad because in 1939 fears for his own and his
family’s safety prompted him to flee from Hungary, firstly to Paris
and then to Argentina.
Like all inventions the ballpoint pen had its precursors and required
the input of numerous experts and considerable financial backing.
For the ballpoint pen to work well it requires precision-made ball
bearings, which finally a Swedish company was able to produce to
the standard required by László Bíró. Another problem was to produce
ink of suitable viscosity. Initially Bíró’s brother, György, helped
to resolve this problem, but later the experimentation was continued
in the workshops of the firm of Goy and Kovalszky.
Andor Goy played an important role in the development of a ballpoint
pen that could be mass produced. His name is associated with the
"Gopen". In 1940, in Argentina, László Bíró began experimenting
independently until he finally patented his ballpoint pen there
in 1943. The first ballpoint pens sold in large numbers to the public
were manufactured in 1945 and were marketed in Argentina under the
name of "Eterpen".
Bíró invented other things but his name will be for ever associated
with the ballpoint pen, in fact in Britain a ballpoint pen is usually
referred to as a "Bíró".
László Bíró was so highly respected in Argentina that the Argentine
Inventors’ Day is celebrated on his birthday September 29th.
László Bíró died on November 24th 1985 in Buenos Aires.