The history of the ballpoint pen
Article added on October 17+18, 2002
The history of the ball-point pen
In 1879 in Providence, Rhode Island, Alonzo T. Cross invented the stylographic fountain pen, a precursor of the ball-point pen. He engaged in competition with Duncan Mackinnon, the other stylographic pen inventor. In 1880 A. T. Cross separated his business from his father's and renamed his company the A. T. Cross - Pen and Pencil Manufacturer.
The fountain pen by Lewis Edson Waterman in 1884 was another step forward in the development of writing instruments. The problems of ink, e.g. drying out, remained. They could be overcome by a ballpoint pen. The first to think of it was the German inventor Baum who patented a ball-point pen (Kugelschreiber) in 1910.
However, the first man to actually develop and launch a ball-point pen was the Hungarian László Jozsef Bíró (1899-1985) from Budapest, who in 1938 invented a ball-point pen with a pressurized ink cartridge. He is considered the inventor of today's ball-point pen. Working as a journalist, Biro noticed that the ink used in newspaper printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge-free. From there he got the idea to use the same type of ink for writing instruments. Since the thicker ink would not flow from a regular pen nib, he fitted his pen with a tiny ball bearing in its tip. Moving along the paper, the ball rotates picking up ink from the ink cartridge and leaving it on the paper. This principle of the ballpoint pen dates back to a never commercially exploited patent of 1888 owned by John J. Loud for a product to mark leather.
At the very end of 1938, just one day before anti-Jewish laws became active in Hungary, Bíró fled to Paris before emigrating to Argentina. Agustin P. Justo had suggested to him to travel to Argentina. He gave him his signed card which should allow Bíró to obtain a hard to get visa for the South American country; only in the consulate Bíró found out Justo was no one else than the Argentine President.
In 1943 Bíró obtained a new patent in Argentina and became the country's leading producer of ball-point pens. The British government bought the patent as the pen's functioning was not affected by high altitude air pressure and would thus be of use to navigators in airplanes. In 1944, a pen under the brand name Biro was produced for the Royal Air Force. Bíró died in Argentina in 1985.
In 1945 Eversharp Co. and Eberhard-Faber acquired the exclusive rights to Biro Pens of Argentina. Their pen company was re-branded the "Eversharp CA" with CA standing for Capillary Action.
Shortly afterwards in 1945, the Chicago businessman Milton Reynolds brought some of Biro's pens from Argentina to the US. With the help of William H. Huenergardt, he created the Reynolds Ball Point Pen which was put on the US market at the end of 1945 - ignoring the patent acqurired by Eversharp. It became an instant success. However, like Biro's and Eversharp's pens, they were not perfect and often leaked and/or smeared.
By 1951, the fountain pen regained its leading position with consumers. The ballpoint pen seemed to have lost the battle. However, in 1954, Parker Pens introduced its first ballpoint pen called The Jotter which became a success. The same can be said of Patrick J. Frawley Jr. who, in 1949, bought from the Los Angeles chemist Fran Seech an improved ink formula. Seech had lost his job when the ballpoint pen company he was working for had gone out of business. He continued to improve the ink formula he had been working for. Frawley used it when he launched his Frawley Pen Company in 1949. Within one year, he put an improved ballpoint pen on the market, the first pen with a retractable ballpoint tip with no-smear ink. Frawley named his pen the "Papermate". It became a huge success, selling hundreds of millions of copies within a few years. However, within the ballpoint pen battle, the French Baron Marcel Bich, who had founded the BIC company in 1950, began to dominate the market in Europe and the US in the late 1950s and, by 1960, owned 100% of the Waterman pen company.
The Fisher Space Pen
In September 1945, Julian Levy, Milton Reynolds' son-in-law, had asked Paul C. Fisher to help improve their pen not yet launched. After two days of testing, Fisher declined the offer because he came to the conclusion that "the basic principle is not sound". Despite this evaluation by Fisher, Reynolds had made some five million dollars after taxes by January 1946.
In October 1948, Paul C. Fisher founded his own firm, the Fisher Space Pen Company. In the 1950's, there were dozens of ballpoint models using nearly as many different cartridges. Therefore, in 1953 Fisher invented the "Universal Refill" which could be used in most pens. It was a good seller since store owners could reduce their stock of assorted refills.
Fisher continued to improve his refill and, in 1966, came up with a perfect solution using thixotropic ink: It remains semisolid until the shearing action of the rolling ball liquefies it. The ink flows only when needed. The cartridge is pressurized with nitrogen so that it does not rely on gravity to make it work. It writes in freezing cold, desert heat, underwater and upside down (1965: patent # 3, 285, 228 - the original AG7 Anti-Gravity Pen developed by Paul Fisher).
Sensa Polar Silver Ballpoint Pen. Photograph copyright: Sensa by Willat.
Sensa Carbon Black Ballpoint Pen. Photograph copyright: Sensa by Willat.
Sensa Antigua Blue Ballpoint Pen. Photograph copyright: Sensa by Willat.
Sensa Antigua Green Ballpoint Pen. Photograph copyright: Sensa by Willat.
The original Fisher Astronaut Pen AG7 from the 1960s. Photograph Copyright: Fisher Space Pens.
The Fisher BULLET Pen. Photograph Copyright: Fisher Space Pens. The original BULLET Pen was developed in 1948. Until today, Bullet Pens are Fisher's most popular items.
The Fisher Millennium Pen. Photograph Copyright: Fisher Space Pens. It writes over 55 km, enough to write some 80 years. It comes with a lifetime guarantee.
Paul C. Fisher invented his pen and refill at the right time: It was the era of the space race. Astronauts involved in the Mercury and Gemini missions had been using pencils to take notes in space since standard ball points did not work in zero gravity. The Fisher cartridge did work in the weightlessness of outer space and astronauts, beginning with the October 1968 Apollo 7 mission, began using the Fisher AG-7 Space Pen and cartridge.
Since then, Fisher pens have been the only ones used on all manned space flights by the USA and the USSR: the Apollo missions, the landings on the moon, the Space Shuttle flights, the Sojus flights, the MIR space station missions and the International Space Station ISS.