A cheap plastic pen. Let’s be honest about it, unless we find it in the glove compartment of our car when we REALLY need it, we don’t give this little wonder of technology, the credit it actually deserves.
I can imagine the frown on your face now because most probably you are thinking of the few Rands this plastic pen must have costed, but just read ahead and you will never look the same way at this nifty writing tool.
On the time-scale of humanity sharing it’s whereabouts through writing, it is just a short while ago that for the first time in history, people had the tool to quickly jot something down with ink, no matter where they were at that moment.
If you can’t directly follow where I am pointing at, then imagine going back in time for about 200 years, and keeping a writing quill and an ink-pot, containing a slow drying India ink, in your pocket in case you needed to sign something.
Besides the fact that this is something you would rather not put in your pocket as to keep on the safe side of accidental leaks, it was also not very practical; You would need to hold the book or paper, and your reed pen or quill pen (or later on, your metal nib pen), and the ink pot. When you succeeded to write something down, you would have to wait for several minutes, before the ink would be dried up, and you could carry on with whatever you were doing. The second option was that you would go to the nearest place where you would have the benefit of a desk or a table with a coal stove beneath it, used to dry the ink as fast as possible, and all of this just to put a scribble on a piece of paper.
Hopes were high, when Lewis Waterman patented the first practical fountain pen in 1884.
This being said, it was definitely not the first attempt for a writing instrument designed to carry their own supply of ink. In fact, the principle went back for over one hundred years before Waterman’s patent, to the oldest known design of a fountain pen that came from the hands of a Frenchman named M. Bion, which dated back to the year 1702.
There were many more attempts to create a reliable fountain pen, but all of them suffered the same flaws: They were plagued by ink spills and other failures that left them impractical and hard to sell. Add to that the fact that all fountain pens started to flood completely when you would fly on an airplane with them, and it was clear that the world awaited a better solution.
Writing on a daily basis, it was likely that scenarios such as the above, must have gotten the Hungarian journalist Laszlo Biro thinking.
The idea of a pen using a quick-drying ink instead of India ink came to him while visiting a newspaper printing facility. The newspaper’s ink left the paper dry and smudge-free almost immediately, and It was clear to Biro that using a similar ink in a different type of writing device was the solution.
That’s where he envisioned to use a tiny metal ball that rotated at the end of a tube filled with this quick drying ink. The ball would have a double function; It would be a cap to keep the ink inside the tube from drying, and It would control the flow of the ink at a steady rate.
In June 1943, Biro and his brother Georg, a chemist, took out a new patent with the European Patent Office and made the first commercial model ballpoint pen the Biro pens. The first ballpoint was born, and for the first time since men’s written history, people could take a small handy tool out of their pocket, write something instantly with a quick drying ink and immediately put the device back into their chest pocket.
Look mama, no stains!
The conclusion is that there is no such thing as “just a ballpoint”, not even a cheap promotional plastic pen or ballpoint.
Because all of them are based on the same invention that took nearly 6000 years of writing history and difficulties to see the light. An invention smaller than the tip of your pinky finger, but not many inventions have changed the way we are doing business now as the tool that gave us the possibility to write instantly, anywhere and anytime we wanted.
If you are curious how promotional pens are currently manufactured in bulk, you NEED to have a look at the video below!
Enjoy, and till the next one!