Cheap, reliable, and portable; ballpoint pens today are used daily by millions worldwide. But that wasn’t always the case. Fountain pens dominated the marketplace until the aftermath of World War II.
The earliest US patent was granted to John J. Loud, an American leather tanner, in 1888. His patent improved the fountain pen’s ability to mark up leather before it was cut, whereas previously pencils were unable to do the job, fountain pens proved too messy. The distinct features of his patent were small rotating metal balls at the base of the pen held in place by a socket, similar to a roll-on deodorant stick.
While Loud’s patent did improve the fountain pen’s ability to mark on rough surfaces, it was too rough to use on paper, and didn’t address the ink leakage and smudges. The patent solved his particular problem while working with leather, but its use was limited, and the patent eventually lapsed.
Then in the late 1920s, Laszlo Jozsef Biro, a Hungarian newspaper editor whose own frustration with fountain pens led him along with his brother, Gyorgy, a dentist and chemist, to design a new writing instrument based on John J. Loud’s 1888 patent. The key to their success was a new, thicker ink which dried quickly and smaller metal balls at the pen tip. Their modern-day ballpoint pen premiered at the 1931 Budapest International Fair.
Its prospects were moved forward by a chance encounter while Laszlo Biro was on vacation, where it met with the approval of a fellow vacationer, Agustin Justo, the then Argentinian president. Justo invited the Biro brothers to set up a plant in his country. Initially, they declined. However, as Jews, the gathering clouds of the European war in 1939 made them reconsider Justo’s offer. In 1941, the Biros’ brother emigrated to Argentina. There, they and their friend, Juan Jorge Meyne, filed for a patent and started Biro Pens of Argentina. Birome was the name given to their pen, a combination of Biro and Meyne names. It debuted in 1943.
In Argentina, the trio met Henry Martin, an English accountant, who thought the pen would be of interest to the British Air Ministry. He knew that at high altitudes the ordinary nib-type fountain pen tended to leak due to pressure changes and was unsuitable for Royal Air Force air crews who had to make up their logs while in flight.
The British didn’t immediately take Martin’s suggestion. Eventually, though, 30,000 pens were manufactured in England by Miles Aircraft for the R.A.F (Royal Air Force). The ballpoint pen’s popularity didn’t spread to North America until 1945. Two companies spent $500,000 to license it for the US market, but they were beaten to the punch by a savvy American businessman, Milton Reynolds. While visiting Argentina, he bought some Biromes, returned to the US, immediately set up the Reynolds International Pen Company, then tweaked the Biro patent.
Within four months, he began selling them. He called it "Reynolds Rocket". It was heavily marketed with the promise that it would only need refilling every two years. It debuted in October, 1945 at Gimbels Department store in New York City. It was an immediate success. Priced at $12.50/ea ($199.66 in 2022 $$), Gimbels ordered 50,000 units and sold 30,000 by the end of the first week.
In the rush to market it, Reynolds gave priority to the promotional aspects of the pen and blatantly ignored flaws in
the pen functionality. Consumers soon became disenchanted with the ballpoint pen which didn’t live up to the hype. Many returned to fountain pens. In 1954, Parker Pens introduced its first ballpoint pen, the “Jotter”. It wrote five times longer than the “Rocket”, had multiple tip sizes, and large-capacity ink refills. It worked and the public embraced it. Parker sold 3.5 million Jotters at prices that ranged from $2.95/ea ($31.71 2022 $$) to $8.75/ea ($94.04 2022 $$) in less than a year.
Then along came Marcel Bich, an Italian-born French industrialist who created a new French company, Societe Bic. He dropped the “h” in his name and began selling pens called BICs in 1950, mass producing them at low cost. It was a revolutionary turn in the evolution of the ballpoint pen.
In 1958 Bich brought the pen to the American market. The Bic pen was soon selling at 29 cents ($2.89 2022 $$) with the slogan "writes the first time, every time!" The BIC pen ushered in the real beginning of the broad use of ballpoint by ordinary people in their daily lives. Its reach over time extended to other areas of life as individuals and organizations began to experiment. The ballpoint pen's portability allowed doodling and sketching to reach new heights and have been used by astronauts in outer space.
Ballpoint pens have even proven to be a versatile art medium for professionals known as “ballpoint pen artists”.
Explore the work of James Mylne https://www.jamesmylne.co.uk/, Il Lee https://artprojects.com/il-lee/il-lee-ballpoint-pen-on-paper/and Jonathan Brechignac https://bit.ly/3LQZ9fO in this genre.
The Museum of Modern Art recognized the Bic Cristal's industrial design by introducing it into the museum's permanent collection https://www.moma.org/collection/works/82141
Ballpoint pens have also made their way to the halls of power in Washington, DC. Presidents sign legislation with pens, and each
has had his own favorite brand. President Kennedy preferred a Parker pen; more recent presidents: Bush, Obama, and Biden have favored Cross pens; and Trump used a Sharpie permanent marker.
I’m sure you have your own favorite. My current pen of choice is a CVS Caliber Retractable Ball Pen 1.0 mm tip (medium tip), black ink. A four pack costs $5.49 or $1.37 each.
Schneider, Stuart, and George Fischler. Illustrated guide to antique writing instruments. 3rd ed.,
Atglen, PA, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 2000.
Gostony, Henry, and Stuart Schneider. The incredible ballpoint pen : a comprehensive history & price guide.
Atglen, PA, Schiffer Publishing Ltd, 1998.
Rota, Matt. The art of the ball point: experimentation, exploration, and techniquest in ink.
Beverly, MA, Rockport Publishing, 2016.
Brown, Sunni. The doodle revolution: unlock the power to think differently. New York, Portfolio / Penguin, 2014.
Websites and Blog Posts:
Rebecca, Maksel. "If you like ballpoint pens, thank the R.A.F. ." , Smithsonian : Air & Space Magazine , 10 June 2015, www.smithsonianmag.com/air-space-magazine/ballpoint-pens-RAF-180955537/. Accessed 26 May 2022.
Dowling, Stephen. "The cheap pen that changed writing forever ." , 29 Oct. 2020, www.bbc.com/future/article/20201028-history-of-the-ballpoint-pen. Accessed 26 May 2022.
O, Catherine. "The inventor behind the modern ballpoint pen." , Undated , www.pens.com/blog/the-inventor-behind-the-modern-ballpoint-pen/.
Société Bic / BIC Corporate US
Two New Jersey scratch-off lottery tickets were tucked in a birthday card. I knew I didn’t win but I became intrigued by the concept of lotteries.
I discovered they have a long history traceable to ancient times.
According to the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries (NA, a type of lottery funded the building of the Great Wall in China.
In the Old Testament, in the book of Numbers (26: 55 – 56) Moses takes a census of the people of Israel and divides the land among them by lot.
Emperors Nero and Augustus had lotteries to give away property and slaves during Roman festivals and holidays.
Burgundy and Flanders in the 15th century held some of the first European lotteries. The funds were used for defense or aid to poor.
Ventura, considered to be the first European lottery to award monetary prizes, was held in the Italian city-state of Modern in 1476.
However, the lottery that came to serve as the model for modern lotteries was the Genoese Lottery named for the game which originated in the Italian city of Genoa in the 17th century. It quickly spread to other Italian cities and elsewhere.
Italy’s first national lottery was created in 1863 providing income for the unified Italian nation.
In 1566, England’s Queen Elizabeth l needed to raise money for repairing harbors and other public projects. She had two choices: levy a new tax on her citizens or hold a lottery. Elizabeth I established England’s first state lottery. The cost was high, limited pool of 400,000 and included other goods. To sweeten the pot, all participants would be granted immunity from arrest, felonies or treason.
The Irish Hospitals’ Sweepstakes, commonly known as the “Irish Sweepstakes” begun in the 1930s was established to fund hospitals. A state lottery replaced it in 1987.
The Sydney Opera House in Australia was another large-scale project underwritten with lottery funds.
Lotteries found their way to our shores in 1621 to help finance the Jamestown settlement.
Then again in 1776 when the Continental Congress established a lottery to raise funds for the American Revolution.
Even though that lottery was jettisoned, over time other localized private lotteries were created.
One example was the lottery that raised money to rebuild Boston’s Faneuil Hall after a devastating fire in 1761.
Proceeds from other public lotteries aided in the building of many colleges. In 1814, the Queen’s College (now Rutgers University)
in New Brunswick, NJ was a beneficiary of lottery proceeds.
The popularity of lotteries has ebbed and flowed marred by corruption, scandals and shifting public sentiment.
Louisiana’s lottery was enormously successful over its 25-year run from 1869 – 1894 in all states. In 1890, President Harrison and the Congress condemned lotteries as “swindling and demoralizing” and prohibited the interstate transportation of lottery tickets.
These actions had a chilling effect and Louisiana was the last U.S. state lottery until 1964 when New Hampshire launched its own sweepstakes on March 12, 1964.
The New Jersey State Lottery was launched In November, 1969.
New Jersey voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that called for the establishment of a State Lottery as part of the general election. The 81.5 percent majority in favor of a Lottery was one of the largest in New Jersey political history.
On December 16, 1970, the first lottery ticket was sold to Gov. William T. Cahill.
Net proceeds of the lottery are constitutionally dedicated to benefit state institutions and state aid for education.
The lottery generates approximately $1 billion dollars annually in net proceeds.
However, beginning in 2018, the Lottery's net proceeds for a 30-year term will used to bolster New Jersey's critically underfunded public employee pension system for teachers, police and fire personnel and other public employees in conformance through the Lottery Enterprise Contribution Act, P.L. 2017, c.98 passed on July 4, 2017.
At the end of this 30-year contribution term, the state pension plans are expected to be 90 percent funded. In year thirty-one, the lottery enterprise reverts back to the state.
There are only five US states currently without a state lottery: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Utah and Nevada.
The absence of the lottery in Alabama, Hawaii and Utah reflect the potential implications of gambling.
However, Alaska’s abundant oil resources provide extra state funds. Nevada sources additional state funding through casino gambling profits.
Click on this link for the North American State and Provincial Lotteries (NASPL) to see how the remaining 45 states with lotteries use their lottery net proceeds.
Please note that the information on the NASPL website reflects data collected for the fiscal year 2016.
Lewis, Danny. "Queen Elizabeth I held England’s first official lottery 450 years ago." Smithsonian Magazine , 13 Jan. 2016, Accessed 29 https://bit.ly/3NtWJWR Mar. 2022.
Herman, Robert D. and Glimne, Dan. "lottery". Encyclopedia Britannica, 5 Mar. 2013, https://www.britannica.com/topic/lottery. Accessed 29 March 2022.
"Interesting facts about the Sydney Opera House 15 pieces of useful trivia about the beloved building." Sydney Opera House , www.sydneyoperahouse.com/our-story/sydney-opera-house-facts.html. Accessed 29 Mar. 2022.
"History: giving dreams a chance since 1970." New Jersey State Lottery , www.njlottery.com/en-us/aboutus/history.html.
Accessed 29 Mar. 2022.
Petrecca, Steven M. "The Lottery Enterprise Contribution Act - Why it is important ." New Jersey Department of the Treasury, The Bond Buyer , 25 July 2017, https://bit.ly/3qIOLiL. Accessed 29 Mar. 2022.
LegiScan, legiscan.com/NJ/S3312/2016. Accessed 29 Mar 2022
"Where does the money go?" North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries, www.naspl.org/wherethemoneygoes/. Accessed 29 Mar. 2022.
No discussion about plastic can be had without knowledge of how we got here. It begins with ivory. Its historical source is rooted in the carnage of killing elephants (mostly), whales, walruses, narwhals, hippopotamuses, and warthogs for their tusks. Ivory was used for piano keys, hair combs, men’s dress collars, dentures, religious items, jewelry and incredibly, billiard balls. Billiards was a huge indoor recreational game in the late 19th century.
Ivory billiard ball
Ivory’s burgeoning demand gave way to the desire to find a suitable and less expensive substitute. Celluloid was the first commercial response to this need.
Henry Stanton Chapman, the Glen Ridge Library’s original benefactor, made his fortune in celluloid manufacturing. He owned and operated the Arlington Company in Arlington, NJ, which is a neighborhood in Kearny. He sold it to DuPont circa 1914. He then went on to manage his investments and engage in local philanthropic endeavors in Glen Ridge. His $50,000 donation provided the funds to build our library, which opened to the public in May 1918.
Celluloid’s popularity began to wane toward the middle of the 20th century, following the introduction of plastics based on entirely synthetic polymers created from petroleum. The word “plastic” come from the Greek word "plastikos," which means “capable of being shaped or molded.”
1907 - Bakelite is invented. 1939 - Nylon is launched.
1941 - PET (polyethylene terephthalate) is first produced. PET is now used to make plastic bottles.
1939 to 1945 - Plastics are in high demand during World War ll when plastics were molded and used for cockpits, and nylon for parachutes to hand grenades.
1950s - The first polyethylene bags appear. High-density polyethylene was developed, which made plastic bottles cheaper to manufacture and buy. Single-use plastics are ushered in.
1960s - Plastics are further toughened and refined, allowing them to compete with metals.
Plastic inspired the iconic scene from “The Graduate” when Los Angeles businessman Mr. McGuire takes Dustin Hoffman’s character Benjamin Braddock aside and declares, “I just want to say one word to you just one word. Plastic.” Turns out, Mr. McGuire’s advice was prophetic. Here's the clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSxihhBzCj
Plastic is durable, lightweight and malleable. This is both good news and bad news.
Let’s start with good news: The advent of plastic revolutionized modern medicine. Laborious medical equipment sterilization yielded to the use of plastic IV bags, syringes, gloves, masks, bed pans, bandages and prosthetics. Plastic transformed blood-bank collection and storage, too.
The bad news: Plastic is durable, lightweight, malleable and made from petroleum. The trouble started when plastic went from being a valuable material to something we were overusing and over-producing without a thought for what would happen when we threw it away. In post-WW ll America, plastic manufacturers shifted their attention and their advertising from military production to consumer items, many of which were single-use and disposable.
Fast-forward to today: Single-use plastics are everywhere on land and in our oceans. It’s remarkable to think that a quest for an ivory replacement for billiard balls would lead us to where we are today. We live with plastics, and it lives within us. Plastics changed the essential texture of contemporary life; so, too, has it altered the basic chemistry of our bodies. It leeches into our bodies from plastics we use for food and liquid storage. Fish ingest it when they eat plastic objects, which they mistake for food then we eat the fish. And microplastics are endemic to our oceans. Microplastics are fragments of any type of plastic less than 5 mm in length, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the European Chemicals Agency. Microplastics are found in upcycled clothing and other items made from plastics. It’s in our air when plastic is incinerated and releases gases into the atmosphere. Plastic has morphed from an engineering triumph into a global plague – a double-edged sword with consequences both positive and negative. We need to wield our swords, and sharpen our senses and strengths to combat and challenge our unwieldy use of non-essential single-use plastics while diligently working to discover, or invent alternative inert and non-toxic substances that replicate the positive properties of plastics which have revolutionized our world.
Perhaps, a global competition could accelerate this mission, just as a $10,000 prize offered by the Albany Billiard Ball Co., manufacturer in the 1800s ignited the creation of celluloid by John Hyatt Jr. in 1868, followed by an improved patent with his
brother, Isaiah S. Haytt in 1870 which evolved into the plethora of plastics were know today.
Poynter, Dougie. Plastic sucks!: How you can reduce single-use plastic & save our planet. New York, Feiwel and Friends, 2019.
Julie, Beer. Kids vs plastic: ditch the straw and find the pollution solution to bottles, bags, and other single-use plastics. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2020.
Terry, Beth. Plastic free: how I kicked the plastic habit and how you can too. New York, NY:, Skyhorse Publishing, 2012.
French, Jess. What a waste: trash, recycling, and protecting our planet. New York, NY:, DK Publishing, 2019.
Cirino, Erica. Thicker than water: the quest for solutions to the plastic crisis. Washington, D.C.:, Island Press, 2021.
Plastic soup Foundation https://www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/en/