Foregoers

József László Bíró

(b. 1899, d. 1985)

Bíró, a Hungarian journalist, magazine publisher, sculptor, and painter, during a visit to a printer’s noticed how quickly the printer’s ink dried. It occurred to him that this fast-drying ink would work well in a fountain pen. This dense ink, however, would not flow through a pen. Therefore, Biro decided to replace the metal writing nib of his pen with a slim ball bearing. As the pen moved across the paper, the ball turned and suctioned ink from the reservoir, which then transferred it to the paper. The first ballpoint pen, the “Biro” was born. He first patented the pen in 1938 in Hungary, then later in 1940 in Argentina. Beside the wide-spread use of the ball point pen in our times, the greatness of his invention was illustrated when in 1945 the first time the pen became commercially available the entire stock of 10,000 pens were sold for $12.50 each.

Another, less credited invention of his was the “automatic gear box” that he installed on his vehicles because he found the clutch mechanism too clumsy. Bíró did not have the capital for the production of his invention and sold it to GM. To prove his invention’s reliability, Bíró installed a sealed version of it on a motorcycle and drove without problems to the German subsidiary of GM in Berlin (700-mile trip).

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