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June 10: The Biro

Lawrence Bush
June 10, 2010

220px-Bolígrafo_marca_birome_ILaszlo Biro, a Hungarian journalist, sculptor and hypnotist, filed a patent in Argentina with his brother Georg for the modern ballpoint pen (called a “Biro” through much of Europe) on this date in 1943. Biro had already patented one version of his pen with fast-drying ink in 1938 in Paris. After escaping the Nazis by traveling to Argentina in 1940, he founded a company to manufacture the Biro, which was licensed to the British Royal Air Force for its usefulness as a writing utensil at high altitudes. The patent was bought by Marcel Bich in 1950 and became the main product of the Bic company, which by the late 1950s held 70 percent of the European market for writing utensils. Biro died in Argentina in 1985. Inventor’s Day is celebrated in his adopted land on his birthday, September 29th. Some fourteen million pieces of his invention are bought daily around the world.
“[F]antastic . . . miraculous fountain pen . . . guaranteed to write for two years without refilling!” —from a 1945 Gimbels ad in the New York Times. The department store sold out its entire stock of 10,000 pens at $12.50 each on the first day of sales.

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.