Not a history of all pens, but of ballpoint pens.
The first great success for the ballpoint pen came on an October morning in 1945 when a crowd of more than 5,000 people jammed into the entrance of New York City’s Gimbels Department Store. The day before, Gimbels had taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times promoting the first sale of ballpoint pens in the United States. The ad described the new pen as a “fantastic … miraculous fountain pen … guaranteed to write for two years without refilling!” On that first day of sales, Gimbels sold out its entire stock of 10,000 pens at $12.50 each.
My Dad had one of these from the first day. He’d have been 20 years old and working for his father’s direct mail company in NYC. It’d be a nice keepsake but wouldn’t write anymore than any of the other 9,999 sold by Gimbels that day.
The article speaks of an 1888 patent by one John Loud, the Hungarian Ladislas Biro and his brother whose 1935 design, eventually produced in Argentina and from which the Reynolds design later sold in Gimbels was stolen. Copying a failed product doesn’t seem like such a great idea, but Reynolds thought otherwise. I wonder what became of all those two year guarantees.
It is the Biro brothers patent date of June 10, 1943 which is considered the birth of the ballpoint fountain pen.
But the first functional ballpoints were by Patrick J. Frawley Jr. in the US in 1949, and by Marcel Bich in France in 1952. Frawley named his company Papermate. Bich had purchased the Biro’s patent and used it as a jumping off point to study failed ballpoint pen mechanisms. He created “a clear-barreled, smooth-writing, non-leaking, inexpensive ballpoint pen he call the Ballpoint Bic.”