It’s often little things unnoticed that make important marks in our lives. It is literally and figuratively true to the life of a man who invented something that leaves a mark on people’s lives all around the world – the ballpoint pen.
The ballpoint pen has a ball on its point that rotates and leaves ink behind that comes from its reservoir. Brass, steel, or tungsten can be used to a ball at the point of the pen, with varying diameter.
John J. Loud, an American inventor, tried to invent a pen that can write on leather, so he made a ballpoint pen and had the first patent in 1888. His invention had no commercial viability, and its potential went unexploited, which eventually caused the patent to lapse.
Many tried to improve the design of the ballpoint pen but did not deliver the ink evenly or overflow and clog the pint. Also, many patents were issued for pens that used a ballpoint tip of some kind, but none of them made it to the market.
Until the early 1930s, while working, a Hungarian journalist and artist, Laszlo Biro, noticed that newspaper ink dried much more quickly, leaving the paper smudge-free than that from a fountain pen.
Biro, with his chemist brother named György, made the crucial changes on the ballpoint pen’s ink. They tried to experiment with the use of thicker, quick-drying inks. They experimented with the ink used in newsprint presses. Eventually, they refined both the ink and the ball-tip design to create a pen that didn’t leak badly. As they tried using the pen, the ball rotated, picking up the ink cartridge and leaving it on the paper.
In 1938, Biro had his first patent on his pen. After he and his brother emigrated in Argentina, Biro applied for another patent in June 1943.
During World War II, the British government bought the licensing rights to Biro’s patent because the British Royal Air Force needed a new pen that could be best used and at higher altitudes in fighter planes, just like how fountain pens work.
Biro was put in the limelight after his ballpoint pens successful performance for the Air Force. Unfortunately, he had never gotten a U.S. patent for his pen, so another battle was beginning even as World War II ended.
Ballpoint Pens Battle
Over the years, a lot of improvements were made to pens. It led to a battle over the rights to Biro’s invention. After Biro and his brother received the patent in Argentina, the Eterpen Company commercialized the pens. The press commended the success of their writing tool as it could write for a year without refilling.
In 1945, the companies Eversharp and Eberhard-Faber teamed up to acquire exclusive rights to Biro Pens of Argentina. They rebranded the pens as “Eversharp CA.”
The press releases were months in advance of public sales.
In June 1945, a Chicago businessman, Milton Reynolds, visited Buenos Aires. It was less than a month after Eversharp and Eberhard closed the deal with Eterpen. He noticed the Biro pen and seen the potential in sales. He bought a few samples and returned to America to launch Reynolds International Pen Company, ignoring Eversharp’s patent rights.
It only took four months for Reynolds to copy the Biro pen. He began to sell his product by the end of October 1945 and called it “Reynolds Rocket” and made available at Gimbel’s department store in New York City. Reynolds’ imitation overpowered the Eversharp in the market. It was successful on its first day and had sold $100,000 worth of pens by selling $12 each.
Ballpoint Pen Becomes a Fad
Ballpoint pens had the guarantee of writing for two years without refilling of ink. Sellers also claimed they’re smear-proof. However, what stood out was Reynolds’ advertisement of his pen that could “write underwater.”
Sales for both Reynolds and Eversharp skyrocketed. Eversharp sued Reynolds for copying the design which it had legally acquired.
Over time, people’s interest in ballpoint pens died due to frequent price wars and inferior quality. Reynolds’ pen neither succeeded to write well as it tended to leak and skip nor did Eversharp’s pen live up to its advertisements. There was a very high volume of pen returns for both companies. Also, in 1948, the high cost of advertising hurt both companies. Sales dropped down dramatically. From the original $12.50, the asking price became 50 cents per pen.