• 1806 Engineering Services

“The pen is mightier than the sword”

Engineering in History

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"[8] which 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 are known today 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 was too tight, or the ink too thick, it would not reach the paper. If the socket was 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 (later naturalized Argentine) 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 acted 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,[clarification needed (Which British people/institution?)] 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 ballpoint pens, often used the term "ball-point fountain pen".

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