Who invented the ballpoint pen?

80 years ago : How the ballpoint pen was invented

Children playing marble games are said to have given him the idea: If the marble rolls through a puddle, it leaves a damp trail afterwards. When the Hungarian Lászlo Bíró saw this, he had the solution. The inventor patented his first ballpoint pen 80 years ago: it writes easily, does not spill and does not allow the ink to dry in the tank. The coolie begins its triumphal march around the world. Desks without a ballpoint pen are hard to imagine today - despite computers, digitization and the dream of a paperless office.

According to an industry report by the Cologne-based market researcher Marketmedia24, the Germans spent 439 million euros on ballpoint pens last year, just under a seventh more than five years earlier. As promotional items alone, millions of copies are sold every year. "The ballpoint pen is immensely important to us," says the General Association of the Promotional Product Industry.

World Cup pins with soccer ball on the clip

Whether corporate or pub, driving school, disco or party - countless institutions print ballpoint pens in order to be remembered by customers, partners and followers. “Unlike a radio or TV commercial, the advertising message is always present to the user,” says the association's managing director Ralf Samuel. Before the World Cup in Russia, the PSI trade fair will focus on coolies with a soccer ball on the clip.

You can spend several thousand euros on a pen, but the majority is very cheap. Promotional items start at around ten cents. In contrast, pens used to be real luxury items: when a New York department store brought the first ballpoint pens to display in 1945, they cost $ 12.30. An industrial worker had to work eight hours for this.

Established as a filler alternative

The pen was a minor achievement. For decades, inventors had repeatedly worked on filler alternatives that didn't spill and dry out - mostly with moderate success. Unlike Bíró (1899-1985). He received a patent in Hungary in 1938. After he had to flee with his family because of his Jewish roots, he settled in Argentina. In Buenos Aires in 1943 he received another patent - on June 10th - and founded a writing instrument company with his brother Georg.

Whether the pen messes up the handwriting, as many believe, remains controversial forever. It is taboo in many classrooms. But most adults write mainly with the pen after surveys. They are available in countless colors and sizes. Collectors keep tens of thousands of copies in shoe boxes and showcases. The Hessian manufacturer Senator alone produces a million ballpoint pens a day, according to its own information, while other producers such as Klio-Eterna and Schneider (Baden-Württemberg), Pelikan (Berlin) and Staedtler (Bavaria) also produce in Germany.

80 percent of Germans write by hand every day

Today, fingers are typing millions of messages and posts on mobile phones with fast fingers, and everything from calendars to shopping lists can be captured digitally. Nevertheless, almost 80 percent of Germans still write by hand several times a day, the Franconian manufacturer Stabilo confidently refers to its own survey.

The writing instrument market is growing slowly but steadily, as can be seen from the annual report of the trade association for office and writing culture. "The development of the industry is significantly positively influenced by the favorable labor market data, the increasing number of office workplaces and the increase in the number of students."

Everyone takes one with them

The pen changes. It is available with a built-in USB stick and also as a digital device. The smartpens save the notes so the writer can transfer them to the computer later. As with speech recognition, the software learns to gradually decipher handwriting better - but that only works if you write reasonably well.

Consumer advocates recommend writing instruments with the Blue Angel and refillable ballpoint pens, because the mountain of plastic waste is growing. There are pens made from bio-plastics based on cellulose or corn starch, for example, that can be recycled - provided they are disposed of properly. Providers also advertise with pens for which the carbon dioxide is offset elsewhere.

Although many coolies are quite cheap, they are in great demand. Years ago, the Society for Consumer Research (GfK) asked representative who had ever let something go in the office. Every fifth respondent admitted it. And one of the work equipment that most often disappears in employees' pockets is the ballpoint pen. (Burkhard Fraune / dpa)

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