Try to imagine life without a ball pen. We may be using brittle pencils that fade easily to write something or a feathered quill where we need to apply ink every time we write. But look at us today, we are using a ball pen or ballpoint pen to write lectures, notes, sign papers, draw, to record something, etc. So where did this marvelous invention came from? who is the clever individual that invented a ballpoint pen?
There has been many who have attempted to recreate and improve such an object but these two are the founding fathers of the ballpoint pen:
John J. Loud
On October 30, 1888, the first ballpoint pen or we have commonly known as ball pen or pen was patented in the United States of America with US patent #392046. John J. Loud from Massachusetts is the inventor of the first ballpoint pen. According to some sources, he was trying to invent a pen that can write on leather and on rough surfaces, then he comes up with the ball “tipped” pen. But that’s not all, he also invented a safety cannon for firecrackers. Amazing, right?
First of all, who is this John J. Loud that invented the first ballpoint pen? So according to Tufts Library and David Hurley (n/d), John Jacob Loud is from Weymouth, Massachusetts. He was born on November 2, 1844. When he was in high school he went to Weymouth High School and moved to Harvard University studied there and he became a lawyer. He worked as a lawyer for years but when his father, the cashier of the Union National Bank asked him to become his assistant, in 1871, he took the position. When his father died, he was appointed to replace him so for 20 years, he worked as a cashier.
Do you know him now? No, you didn’t even know that he is a member of the Union Congregational Church, Maine Genealogical Society, and New England Historic Genealogical Society. He was also one of the founders of the Weymouth Historical Society. He really is a man of many talents and interests!
John Jacob Loud married Emily Keith Vickery on November 7, 1872. His wife, Emily Keith Vickery died on November 1911, which is four years earlier when John Jacob Loud died on August 10, 1916. They had eight little children in their marriage. He was also an American leather tanner and that is the reason why he came up with the idea of inventing a ball pen that can write on his leather. He was having difficulty on using pencils to write lines, curves, and marks because sometimes he can’t see where he marked the leather. So he wanted to have a pen with a dark ink that can write on leather and rough surfaces. He was successful in his ideas but the problem is the ink, using a thin ink, it leaked and using a thick ink, it clogged. The temperature also makes the ink of the ball pen leak and clog at the same time. That is really a problem.
There are also files of John Jacob Loud, his picture which is taken when he was alive, the ballpoint pen that he invented, and his signature. We have a picture of his signature in this article and according to Wikimedia organization, his signature is ineligible for copyright. It is also noted that the tag cannot be used on all signatures. So whoever copies his signature may be sued.
Lastly, the ballpoint pen that John Jacob Loud invented is not like the one we are using today, there are many people who tried to improve his design but not successful because the delivery of ink is not even so it was clogged and the ink is overflowing. After so many attempts of improving John Jacob Loud’s invention, Làzlò Birò together with his brother patented their pen.
The Birò Brothers
The brains behind in improving this invention was none other than Làzlò Birò and his brother György Birò. Làzlò, was born in Budapest Hungary. There he worked as an Editor in a Hungarian Newspaper. In his career, he noticed and annoyedly pointed out that fountain pens dried slowly and often smudged. He began experimenting with various fountains inks with the help of his brother a chemist but found out that the ink was too thick to flow. Eventually, he and his brother finally perfected the “ball-and-socket” mechanism that John J. Loud started, which the modern ballpoint pen has been known for.
Although the first ballpoint pen was patented by 1888 by John J. Loud. The invention was hardly usable for writing and thus, was not commercialized. The patent eventually lapsed in time until the world has been graced again by the presence of the ballpoint pen in Budapest International Fair in the year 1931.
In 1938, Làzlò seeing the potential of the ballpoint pen, signed a deal with his business partner to produce the pens in Hungary. Tension rises as the 2nd world war draws near. Instead of staying home and profiting off the invention that would probably make him earn millions. He along with his family was forced to flee his hometown, even forced to sell half of his shares to be able to evacuate.
Bíró ended up in Argentina after many failed attempts in finding refuge. Finally! A patent was given on June 10, 1943, the same day the National Ballpoint pen was celebrated—but that’s not all.
An English accountant Henry Martin, residing in South America thought that The ballpoint pen could be of military use. No, they didn’t use the pen for morbid purposes, fortunately. Martin believed in the potential of the pen to be able to write while flying in a fighter plane (He observed that traditional nib pens leaked in flight) making it a perfect solution to the said problem, and thus after the approval of the London and United States Air Force, production for the ballpoint pen has finally begun.
War ended and the peace has come. The ballpoint pens went production in 1945. The people instantly fell in love! The firsts ones on the market Reynolds International Pen company has been reported to be selling approximately 1.5 million pens a day. They marketed the pens ironically as “The first pen to write underwater.”
The story behind the success of Reynolds International pen was not without issues. The race has begun to get the rights to the patent of the ballpoint pen. The battle to be able to conquer the ball pen industry in which Eversharp Co. was thought to be leading. At that time the company was identified as the biggest pen and pencil maker in the world. But that was not to be, Reynolds International Pen Co. decided to create and invent their own pen and sold it out on the market first. Which was a very smart move. Eversharp Co. attempt to stop them legally has failed. And on that day in 1945, Reynold’s pen became the first-ever modern ball pen sold in the U.S and the rest is a legend.
Regrettably, Làzlò never got rich off of his invention. In 1945 he sold his patent to Marcel Bich who funded the famous BIC pens. BIC Co. started to manufacture pens according to Birò’s design. Currently, BIC pens are distributing their ballpoint pens across the world.
Try to imagine again a life without Mr. John Jacob Loud or the Birò Brothers, there are many questions in our mind right? Do you think there will be a person as clever as them to have an idea of a ballpoint pen? We don’t know that. Maybe there is, and maybe there is not. But here is the thing that we can advise, sometimes try to reflect on things, try to think of their significance to us and try to imagine life without them.
Today, pens are almost found everywhere, it is truly an invention to marvel. The market is flooded with unlimited varieties, designs, and colors. Ranging from inexpensive and disposable ballpoint pens to a deluxe, fancy and high-end ballpoint pen, you will find them in all variety imaginable, some of which are even out of this world. It may not be as techy as the modern world inventions but it is essential all the same. Something that we cannot live without. We should value everything that we own because, in every things that we have, there is a person behind that who experienced hardships in making and producing that thing even if it is cheap or expensive
How many times have we complained about our stolen pens? That is just because the ballpoint pen has become a necessity throughout the years. For the most part, we have been writing and holding ballpoint pens for the majority of our lives.
If we were to compare ballpoint pens to our lives, where the ink maybe our lifeline. We are given the choice of what we do on a blank canvas. We can choose to draw, write, or even smudge the blank canvas of life until the ink runs out. And the end product on what our life has become is the image that we had created using the ink. It may be colorful, monochrome and full of smudges and mistakes but beautiful and meaningful all the same.