B. Alexandra Szerlip at The Believer:
The odyssey, at times hilarious, of the ballpoint pen is a window into entrepreneurship and America’s consumer mentality at the start of the postwar (post WWII) period.
The first “ball tip” pen patent was filed back in 1888, the invention of Massachusetts leather tanner John Loud, who needed to mark hides, but it was never commercially exploited. Fifty years later, Hungarian journalist László Jozsef Biro—frustrated at always having to fill up fountain pens and clean up smudges—noticed that newspaper ink dried almost immediately, leaving the paper relatively smudge-free. But newsprint ink was too thick to flow through regular pen nibs (which often tore up the newsprint); he and his chemist brother, Georg, set to work making models. Their eureka moment came, the story goes, while watching boys playing street marbles; one marble, having rolled through a puddle, left a line behind it. The brothers devised a point fitted with a tiny ball bearing that, fed by a fine-coiled tube in the barrel, rolled (rather than poured) ink onto the page.