Biography

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Born:

29-Sep-1899

Birthplace:

Budapest, Hungary

Died:

24-Oct-1985

Location of death:

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Cause of death:

unspecified

Gender:

Male

Religion:

Jewish

Race/Ethnicity:

White

Occupation:

Inventor

Nationality:

Argentina

Executive summary:

Ballpoint pen

Father:

Matthias Biro

Brother:

George Biro (chemist)

Wife:

Elsa Shick Biro

Daughter:

Mariana Biro

 

L

aszlo Biro went to Budapest University of Technology and Economics and studied medicine, art and hypnotism. In 1935 he was editing a small newspaper-where he was frustrated by the amount of ink smudges. Besides, the sharp tip of his fountain pen scratched through the paper. Determined to invent a better pen, Laszlo and his brother Georg set off making models of new designs and formulating better inks to use.

One summer day while having a vacation at the seashore, the brothers met an elderly gentleman, Augustine Justo, who happened to be the president of Argentina. After the brothers showed him their model, Justo urged them to set up a factory. When World War II broke out in Europe, the Biro brothers fled to Argentina, stopping in Paris along the way to patent their pen.

Once in Argentina, the Biros found several investors willing to finance their invention, and in 1943 they had set up a new manufacturing factory. Unfortunately, the pens were a failure. The Biro pen, like the designs that have been produced in it, depended on the force of gravity for the ink to run down to the rolling ball. This meant that the pens only worked if the pen was held right up; even then the ink flow was often too heavy, leaving smudgy globs on the paper. The Biro brothers returned to their factory and made a new design, which depended on “capillary action rather than gravity to fall to the rolling                          ball. The ‘ball’ at the end of the pen acted like a metal sponge, and with this improvement ink could flow more smoothly to the ball rather than straight up. A year later, the Biros were selling their new, improved ballpoint pen throughout Argentina. But it was still not a success, so the men ran out of business.

Unknown to Biro, a similar idea had been patented fifty years earlier, by John Loud, although it had faded into unimportance. However, Laszlo had an advantage over Loud; World War II. The Royal Air Force was having problems with fountain pens leaking at high altitude, and was trying to look for a solution. As Laszlo and Georg had immigrated to Argentina to avoid the war, they were trying to start a production of their idea when the British Government approached them to ask if they could buy licensing rights for the new pen. They agreed, and the pen became a high success, no doubt due to the all- permeating publicity of the time.

The publicity this brought then pen to the pen attracted others interested in marketing the product. In May 1945, Eversharp, in conjunction with Eberhard Faber, learned the exclusive rights to the Biro Pens. They renamed the pen Eversharp CA, and started aggressively marketing all over Argentina.

From this point, the meteoritic rise of ballpoint pens goes on, driven by price battles lasting ten years. Although his name is identical with the pens, Biro no longer had any interests in the invention, and large companies such as Parker, Papermate and BIC have made the highest amounts of money.

Laszlo died in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1985, his cause of death is unspecified.

Inventor’s Day is celebrated on Biro’s birthday, 29 September.