I recently discovered a bundle of old exercise books. As I untied the string which bound the collection I noticed they were a relic of my schooldays. What struck me as I thumbed these seminal tomes of my intellectual development, was the smudged handwriting. Blotches of ink, inky fingerprints and other ink related schoolboy catastrophes highlighted each page. I was the product of a schooling system which insisted that the ballpoint pen was bad for the development of fine calligraphy!
Luckily the invention of Laszlo Biro has prevailed. His name is synonymous with the ballpoint pen even though this had been invented 50 years before Biro’s 1938 patent. Marcel Bich bought the patent in 1950 before spending two years perfecting his iconic Bic Crystal ballpoint pen. So successful was his product that 57 Bic Biros are sold every second amounting to 100 billion since 1950. There can be hardly anyone on the planet that isn’t familiar with it.
1. When we consider that for years the Bic Biro was the tool we used to express ourselves. How many of the world’s great ideas started their lives as a line of blue or black ink scribed onto paper by the ball of a Bic Biro.
2. Did it challenge the rules? I would argue it did. Previously pens were relatively expensive and required skill to use. The biro opened up the world as a cheap, reliable tool that anyone could use.
3. It has popular appeal. Even today as electronics usurp the written word we still carry a ballpoint pen to fill those gaps when only pen and paper can be useful.
4. We couldn’t imagine a world without the biro or its many spin offs. Even, I would suggest in a hundred years time, there will still be biros in use. When your ‘i’ this that and the other, has become obsolete, still tucked away in your desk drawer will be a ubiquitous biro. I look at my desk now, as I type into my super clever computer, beside me are notes, diagrams, doodles and drawings made using a small army of biros.
My schoolbooks are testament to what life was like without the Bic biro. We can only speculate that given the ease with which words, thoughts and ideas could be generated it is possible that without the ballpoint pen we wouldn’t have made intellectual or technological progress as fast as we have, without it.