I generally like to use a Bic Cristal ballpoint pen when I’m writing. It’s the best selling pen in the world and over 100 billion have been sold since they first rolled of the production line in 1950. About 60 of these pens are sold each second! Over 200 million are sold in Britain each year.
Just one Bic Cristal pen can write up to:
- 9,431 signatures
- 986 Sudoku puzzles
- 506 postcards
- 97 exam papers
- 2 kilometres
Well, in a word …
For a slightly more detailed answer, we need to hop on a time machine and go back about 80 years …
… to Hungary during the early 1930s.
Writers during these days used either pens dipped in inkwells or fountain pens, with interior ink reservoirs, but either method often led to splotchy documents and stained fingers.
A young man called László Bíró was working as a newspaper reporter in Budapest. He noticed that although the ink from inkwells smudged easily and took several minutes to dry, the ink used to print newspapers dried much quicker and didn’t smudge. He tried using some of this printing press ink in his fountain pen, but it was too viscous and wouldn’t flow properly. Working with his brother György, a chemist, he developed a new pen tip consisting of a ball that was free to turn in a socket, and as it turned it would pick up ink from a cartridge and then roll to deposit it on the paper.
László and his brother were Jewish. Towards the end of the 1930s, with war looming in Europe and growing anti-Semitism in their Hungarian homeland they decided to leave for the safer shores of Argentina. In 1938, just before leaving, they registered a patent for the pen. Below is an extract from Patent GB498997 :Once in Argentina, the Bírós continued to develop their ballpoint pen. In 1943 they filed another patent and formed a company called Biro Pens of Argentina to manufacture the pens. Originally named the Eterpen
Meanwhile … over in France, a man called Marcel Bich had bought an empty factory in Paris. He had a knowledge of the writing instrument trade, gained while working as a production manager for an ink maker.
His factory began to make fountain pen parts and mechanical lead pencils. He’d heard about László Bíró’s ballpoint pen and purchased the patent rights from him. Between 1949 and 1950 the Bic Cristal was designed by the Décolletage Plastique design team at Société PPA (later Société Bic). Bich invested in Swiss technology capable of cutting and shaping metal down to 0.01 millimetre, with the outcome a stainless steel, one millimetre sphere which allowed ink to flow freely. After many attempts Bich found a viscosity of ink which neither leaked nor clogged and launched the Bic Cristal in 1950.
An advertising executive had advised Bich to shorten his family name to Bic as an easy-to-remember, globally adaptable tradename for the pen. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the Bic Cristal’s ballpoint writing tip and ergonomic design helped change the worldwide market for pens from fountain pens to mostly ballpoints.
Most people nowadays tend to call ballpoint pens biros.
So … That’s Biro … Bic Biro.
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