“Bíro presented the first prototype of the ballpoint pen at the Budapest International Fair in 1931, later patenting his invention in 1938. To this day, the ballpoint pen is still referred to as the “Biro” in several countries,” Google says. “Today we celebrate Bíro and his relentless, forward-thinking spirit on the 117th anniversary of his birth.”
Here’s what you need to know about Biro:
1. He Was Born in Hungary & Was a Journalist
Laidslao Jose Biro was born September 29, 1899, in Budapest, Hungary, to a Jewish family.
He worked as journalist, and it was during that time that he came up with the idea for a way to improve the fountain pen, according to the National Inventors Hall of Fame:
Biro was working as a journalist when he noticed a fundamental difference between two types of ink. Ink for fountain pens was easy to smudge because it needed time to dry, yet ink used in newspaper printing presses dried much faster, leaving dry paper with a smudge-free product.
“It got me thinking how this process could be simplified right down to the level of an ordinary pen,” Biro said, according to The Telegraph.
2. He Invented the Ballpoint Pen With His Brother, Who Was a Chemist
Biro enlisted the help of his brother, Gyorgy, a chemist, to invent the ballpoint pen. He tried to use newspaper ink inside the pen, but it was too thick.
“Needing a way to combine the qualities of both inks, Biro worked to perfect the design,” according to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. “It consisted of a ball that freely rotated in a socket. Moving the pen across the page made the ball rotate, where it picked up ink from a reservoir and applied it to the page. The Biro pen was the first successful ballpoint writing instrument.”
3. He Fled to Argentina From Nazi-Occupied Hungary & Sold 30,000 Pens to the Royal Air Force During World War II
Biro did not make a fortune from the ballpoint pen, and used most of his proceeds to help his family escape to Argentina from Nazi-occupied Hungary during World War II.
His invention became a helpful tool during the war, as more than 30,000 of the pens were sold to Britain’s Royal Air Force, because they were able to be used at high altitudes, unlike other fountain pens, according to The Telegraph.
“His pen came to the attention of a British clerk who thought the pen would be useful to airplane navigators because it was not dependent on pressure for ink distribution, working well at high altitudes. The British government bought Biro’s patent and had the pens made for the Royal Air Force. From this, Biro’s pen quickly gained commercial success,” according to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
4. The Patent for Biro’s Invention Was Bought by Bic & the Ballpoint Has Become the Most Popular Pen in the World
The ballpoint has become the most popular pen in the world, and is known in many countries simply as a biro. It is estimated that 15 million ballpoint pens are sold each day around the world, according to The Guardian.
The patent for the pen was bought by Marcel Bich in 1945, according to Cosmopolis.
“Since 1950, Bic has sold more than 100 billion ballpoint pens globally – enough to draw a line to the moon and back more than 320,000 times. Yet few objects are as easily lost, stolen or chewed in lieu of cigarettes. Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, suggested that unattended ballpoints independently made their way ‘through wormholes in space’ to ‘a planet entirely given over to Biro life forms,'” The Guardian says.
5. He Died in 1985 in Argentina at the Age of 86 & His Birthday Is Celebrated Each Year as Inventors’ Day
Biro died on October 14, 1985, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, according to the Los Angeles Times.
He was married to Elsa Schick and had a daughter, Mariana.
Biro’s birthday, September 29, has been celebrated each year since 1986 in Argentina as Inventors’ Day.
He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.