The history of the humble ballpoint pen

The first commercially successful ballpoint pen made its way onto the market in the 1940s, and this type of pen is now such a common feature in both our home and work lives it is doubtful much thought is given these days to how they came about. Despite a huge and exciting variety of other pens on the market, ballpoint pens – or biros as we tend to call them in the UK – have remained very popular as a simple, reliable writing device.

Who invented the ballpoint pen?

So who invented this humble pen? Well, we don’t call them biros for nothing! Hungarian newspaper journalist, László Bíró, was the gentleman who brought this pen into our lives. He followed on from the earlier work of several inventors, all of whom were frustrated with the fountain pens available at the time as they weren’t suitable for the tasks they required of them. For example, John Loud, a leather tanner, required a pen which could write clearly on leather. Loud patented the very first ballpoint pen, however it was a slightly flawed design. Later, Bíró aimed to create a pen design which would assist him in his work too. With other pens causing a hindrance through ink smudges, nibs being too sharp for his paper and the need for frequent refilling, Bíró and his brother set to work on a new design of pen, using different ink and the free-moving ball in a socket concept that others before him had tried so hard to perfect. In 1938 they succeeded and László patented the design. In 1943, during WWII, the RAF were supplied with these biros, due to the fact they were capable of writing in-flight at high altitudes and the rest, as they say, is history!

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

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