Biro, Laszlo Joszef (Ladislao José)

Biro, Laszlo Joszef (Ladislao José)
SUBJECT AREA: Paper and printing
b. 29 September 1899 Budapest, Hungary
d. 24 October 1985 Buenos Aires, Argentina
Hungarian inventor of the ballpoint pen.
Details of Biro's early life are obscure, but by 1939 he had been active as a painter, a member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and an inventor, patenting over thirty minor inventions. During the 1930s he edited a cultural magazine and noticed in the printing shop the advantages of quick-drying ink. He began experimenting with crude ballpoint pens. The idea was not new, for an American, John Loud, had patented a cumbersome form of pen for marking rough surfaces in 1888; it had failed commercially. Biro and his brother Georg patented a ballpoint pen in 1938, although they had not yet perfected a suitable ink or a reservoir to hold it.
In 1940 Biro fled the Nazi occupation of Hungary and settled in Argentina. Two years later, he had developed his pen to the point where he could seek backers for a company to exploit it commercially. His principal backer appears to have been an English accountant, Henry George Martin. In 1944 Martin offered the invention to the US Army Air Force and the British Royal Air Force to overcome the problems aircrews were experiencing at high altitudes with leaking fountain pens. Some 10,000 ballpoints were made for the RAF. Licences were granted in the USA for the manufacture of the "biro", and in 1944 the Miles-Martin Pen Company was formed in Britain and began making them on a large scale at a factory near Reading, Berkshire; by 1951 its workforce had grown to over 1,000. Other companies followed suit; by varying details of the pen, they avoided infringing the original patents. One such entrepreneur, Miles Reynolds, was the first to put the pen on sale to the public in New York; it is reputed that 10,000 were sold on the first day.
Biro had little taste for commercial exploitation, and by 1947 he had withdrawn from the Argentine company, mainly to resume his painting, in the surrealist style. Examples of his work are exhibited in the Fine Arts Museum in Budapest. He created an instrument that had a greater impact on written communication than any other single invention.
Further Reading
"Nachruf: Ladislao José Biro (1899–1985)", HistorischeBurowelt (1988) 21:5–8 (with English summary).
J.Jewkes, The Sources of Invention, pp. 234–5.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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