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"No man was more foolish when
he had not a pen in his hand, or more wise when he had" - Samuel Johnson.
A Hungarian journalist named Laszlo Biro invented the first ballpoint pen in 1938. Biro had noticed that the
type of ink 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. The thicker ink would not flow from a regular pen nib and Biro had
to devise a new type of point. He did so by fitting his pen with a tiny
ball bearing in its tip. As the pen moved along the paper, the ball rotated
picking up ink from the ink cartridge and leaving it on the paper. This
principle of the ballpoint pen actually dates back to an 1888 patent owned
by John J. Loud for a product to mark leather. However, this patent was
commercially unexploited. Laszlo Biro first patented his pen in 1938,
and applied for a fresh patent in Argentina on June 10, 1943. (Laszlo
Biro and his brother Georg Biro emigrated to Argentina in 1940.) The British
Government bought the licensing rights to this patent for the war effort.
The British Royal Air Force needed a new type of pen, one that would not
leak at higher altitudes in fighter planes as the fountain pen did. Their
successful performance for the Air Force brought the Biro pens into the
limelight. Laszlo Biro had neglected to get a U.S. patent for his pen
and so even with the ending of World War II, another battle was just beginning..
Outline - The Battle of Ballpoint Pens
The first pen-writing instrument
was the quill pen dipped into dark paint. There became a need to lengthen
the time between dips, eliminate splatter, eliminate smearing and improve
Pen Becomes a Fad
Early 1800s: The first designs
for pens that could hold their own ink patented.
1884: L.E. Waterman, a New York
City insurance salesman, designed the first workable fountain pen, the
fountain pen becomes the predominant writing instrument for the next sixty
years. Four fountain pen manufactures dominate the market: Parker, Sheaffer,
Waterman and Wahl-Eversharp.
1938: Invention of a ballpoint
pen by two Hungarian inventors, Laszlo Biro and George Biro. The brothers
both worked on the pen and applied for patents in 1938 and 1940. The new-formed
Eterpen Company in Argentina commercialized the Biro pen. The press hailed
the success of this writing tool because it could write for a year without
May 1945: Eversharp Co. teams
up with Eberhard-Faber to acquire the exclusive rights to Biro Pens of
Argentina. The pen re-branded the “Eversharp CA” which stood for Capillary
Action. Released to the press months in advance of public sales.
June, 1945: Less than a month
after Eversharp/Eberhard close the deal with Eterpen, Chicago businessman,
Milton Reynolds visits Buenos Aires. While in a store, he sees the Biro
pen and recognizes the pen’s sales potential. He buys a few pens as samples.
Reynolds returns to America and starts the Reynolds International Pen Company,
ignoring Eversharp’s patent rights.
October 29, 1945: Reynolds copies
the product in four months and sells his product
at Gimbel’s department store in New York City. Reynolds’ imitation beats
Eversharp to market. Reynolds’ pen is immediately successful: Priced at
$12.50, $100,000 worth sold the first day on the market.
December, 1945: Britain was not
far behind with the first ballpoint pens available to the public sold at
Christmas by the Miles-Martin Pen Company.
Ballpoint pens guaranteed to write
for two years without refilling, claimed to be smear proof. Reynolds advertised
it as the pen "to write under water." Eversharp sued Reynolds for copying
the design it had acquired legally. The previous 1888 patent by John Loud
would have invalidated everyone's claims. However, no one knew that at
the time. Sales skyrocketed for both competitors. Nevertheless, the Reynolds’
pen leaked, skipped and often failed to write. Eversharp’s pen did not
live up to its own advertisements. A very high volume of pen returns occurred
for both Eversharp and Reynolds. The ballpoint pen fad ended - due
to consumer unhappiness.
1948: Frequent price wars, poor
quality products, and heavy advertising costs hurt each side. Sales did
a nosedive. The original asking price of $12.50 dropped to less than 50
cents per pen.
1950: The French Baron
called Bich, drops the h and starts BIC and starts selling pens.
1951: The ballpoint pen dies
a consumer death. Fountain pens are number one again. Reynolds folds.
January, 1954: Parker Pens introduces
its first ballpoint pen, the Jotter. The Jotter wrote five times longer
than the Eversharp or Reynolds pens. It had a variety of point sizes, a
rotating cartridge and large-capacity ink refills. Best of all, it worked.
Parker sold 3.5 million Jotters @ $2.95 to $8.75 in less then one year.
with >> Pencils
Ballpoint Pen Battle is Won
Pen War is Won
1957: Parker introduces the tungsten
carbide textured ball bearing in their ballpoint pens. Eversharp was in
deep financial trouble and tried to switch back to selling fountain
pens. Eversharp sold its pen division to Parker Pens and Eversharp's assets
finally liquidated in the 1960’s.
Late 1950's: BIC
® held 70 percent of European market.
1958: BIC buys 60 percent
of the New York based Waterman Pens.
1960: BIC owns 100 percent
of Waterman Pens. BIC sells ballpoint pens in U.S. for 29 - 69 cents.
BIC ® dominates the market. Parker,
Sheaffer and Waterman, capture the smaller upscale markets of fountain
pens and expensive ballpoints.
Today: The highly popular modern
version of Laszlo Biro's pen, the BIC Crystal, has a daily world
wide sales figure of 14,000,000 pieces. Biro is still the generic name
used for the ballpoint pen in most of the world. The Biro pens used by
the British Air Force in W.W.II worked. Parker black ballpoint pens will
produce more than 28,000 linear feet of writing -- more than five miles,
before running out of ink.