How did Ladislao José Biro ink his name into history books?

29 Sep 2016

Ladislao José Biro invented the ballpoint pen. Image: Shutterstock

Today (29 September), Google is celebrating the work of one Ladislao José Biro, a Hungarian whose offering to the world revolutionised more than you think.

With fountain pens the most aesthetically pleasing, crayons the most colourful, and feathers the Middle Ages throwback, it wasn’t until Ladislao José Biro’s creation of the ballpoint pen that writing really leapt into the 20th century.

A journalist by trade, Biro was envious of newspaper print, with text drying almost immediately while he struggled on with his fountain pen. So, in 1931 he decided to change the world.

Future Human

Ladislao José Bíro

Working with his brother György Biro, a chemist, they developed a new type of pen made up of a ball that turned in a socket.

As the ball turned, it picked up ink from a cartridge and rolled to deposit it on paper, much like a newsprint roller transfers an inked image to paper.

Biro 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 many countries.

Despite the digital world making its best attempt to render Biros irrelevant, the handwriting industry isn’t disappearing anytime soon.

Globally, pens and other writing tools generated $16.2bn in revenues in 2014 and are expected to reach $20.2 billion by 2019.

Google, not missing a trick, is at hand to celebrate the 117th anniversary of Biro’s birth with today’s Doodle.

Ladislao José Bíro

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic