The fact that today is “National Ballpoint Pen Day” offers Jewish Treats the opportunity to introduce László Bíró, the Hungarian-Jewish inventor of the now ubiquitous ballpoint writing implement.

Born on September 29, 1899, in Budapest, Hungary, Bíró found his first calling in journalism. As a journalist, he was frustrated by the constant smudging of his written notes. Noting that the ink used for newspaper printing dried quickly, Bíró attempted to use the same ink in his fountain pen. While the newspaper ink did not flow properly from his fountain pen, Bíró knew that he was on to something.

Working together with his brother György, a chemist, Bíró developed a fluid ink that worked with a ball tucked into the tip, an idea he perfected based on previous attempts at pen improvement. The ball blocked the ink from draining out of the pen while, at the same time, constantly picking up fresh ink from the interior cartridge as it rolled.

Although the Bíró brothers invented their pen in Budapest, they patented it in Paris in 1938. Paris was the city to which they fled just one day before Hungary implemented anti-Jewish laws. Feeling (rightly) that Paris would not be a safe refuge, Bíró emigrated to Argentina, where he continued developing and refining his pen. On June 10, 1943, he obtained a new patent in Argentina.

There was a great deal of international interest in Bíró’s pen. In fact, the British government invested in his work because they needed a pen that could be used by their airplane navigators in the air pressure at high altitudes. In 1945, Bíró sold the patent rights to his invention to Frenchman Marcel Bich, who created the Bic pen company.

Bíró continued to live in Buenos Aires. None of his other inventions, however, gained the renown that his ballpoint pen achieved. He died in Argentina on October 24, 1985.

This Treat was originally posted on June 10, 2015.

Copyright © 2021 NJOP. All rights reserved.