iPhoneOgraphy – 02 Mar 2016 (Day 62/366)
A ballpoint pen, also known as a “biro”, “ball pen”, or “dot pen” (in Indian English) is a pen that dispenses ink over a metal ball at its point, i.e. over a “ball point”. The metal commonly used is steel, brass, or tungsten carbide. It was conceived and developed as a cleaner and more reliable alternative to quill and fountain pens, and it is now the world’s most-used writing instrument: millions are manufactured and sold daily. As a result, it has influenced art and graphic design and spawned an artwork genre.
The concept of using a ball point within a writing instrument as a method of applying ink to paper has existed since the late 19th century. In these inventions, the ink was placed in a thin tube whose end was blocked by a tiny ball, held so that it could not slip into the tube or fall out of the pen.
The first patent for a ballpoint pen was issued on 30 October 1888, to John J. Loud, who was attempting to make a writing instrument that would be able to write “on rough surfaces-such as wood, coarse wrapping-paper, and other articles” which then-common fountain pens could not. Loud’s pen had a small rotating steel ball, held in place by a socket. Although it could be used to mark rough surfaces such as leather, as Loud intended, it proved to be too coarse for letter-writing. With no commercial viability, its potential went unexploited and the patent eventually lapsed. The manufacture of economical, reliable ballpoint pens as we know them arose from experimentation, modern chemistry, and precision manufacturing capabilities of the early 20th century. Patents filed worldwide during early development are testaments to failed attempts at making the pens commercially viable and widely available. Early ballpoints did not deliver the ink evenly; overflow and clogging were among the obstacles inventors faced toward developing reliable ballpoint pens. If the ball socket were too tight, or the ink too thick, it would not reach the paper. If the socket were too loose, or the ink too thin, the pen would leak or the ink would smear. Ink reservoirs pressurized by piston, spring, capillary action, and gravity would all serve as solutions to ink-delivery and flow problems.
László Bíró, a Hungarian newspaper editor frustrated by the amount of time that he wasted filling up fountain pens and cleaning up smudged pages, noticed that inks used in newspaper printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge free. He decided to create a pen using the same type of ink. Bíró enlisted the help of his brother György, a chemist, to develop viscous ink formulae for new ballpoint designs.
Bíró’s innovation successfully coupled ink-viscosity with a ball-socket mechanism which act compatibly to prevent ink from drying inside the reservoir while allowing controlled flow. Bíró filed a British patent on 15 June 1938.
In 1941, the Bíró brothers and a friend, Juan Jorge Meyne, fled Germany and moved to Argentina, where they formed Bíró Pens of Argentina and filed a new patent in 1943. Their pen was sold in Argentina as the Birome (portmanteau of the names Bíró and Meyne), which is how ballpoint pens are still known in that country. This new design was licensed by the British, who produced ballpoint pens for RAF aircrew as the Biro. Ballpoint pens were found to be more versatile than fountain pens, especially at high altitudes, where fountain pens were prone to ink-leakage.
Bíró’s patent, and other early patents on ball-point pens often used the term “ball-point fountain pen”.