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 user 2006-11-27 at 10:17:00 am Views: 45
  • #17076

    happy 60th b-day for the bic pen
    Did Biros really revolutionise writing?
    Bic Biros are sold every second (and then “borrowed” by passing
    colleagues) – not bad for a 60-year-old product. But did the pens
    really make that much of a difference?It was a familiar frustration
    that led to the invention of the modern ball-point pen – leaky ink.In
    1938, Hungarian newspaper journalist Laszlo Biro noticed the ink used
    on the printing presses dried quickly and so tried using it in a
    fountain pen to avoid the problem of leaks, blots and smudges.But the
    ink was too thick to flow into the nib. So Biro, with the help of his
    brother, a chemist, devised a pen tipped with a metal ball bearing that
    used capillary action to draw ink through the rotating ball.They
    brought their invention with them when they fled to the West during a
    crackdown on Jews later that year. A British firm took over the patent
    to produce pens for the RAF, and the first Biros went on sale in the UK
    60 years ago this week.Barring tweaks and improvements, the pen is
    still recognisable as the ball-point Biro devised to make writing
    easier, and it regularly features in top 100 design lists, says Libby
    Sellers, the curator of the Design Museum.”It has worked so well for so
    long that you stop noticing it. It does what it says it should be
    doing, like the paper clip and the Post-It note.”But was it
    revolutionary? “That’s a big word, but it made writing easier. No
    longer did you need to worry about ink spills or refills. To be mobile
    and reliable are two amazing things to be able to accommodate into such
    a small and humble object.”What is remarkable is Biro’s lateral
    thinking in bringing existing technologies together to create an
    everyday object that everyone could write with. Ball bearings already
    existed. Quick-drying ink already existed. And so did roller-balls, in

    Pen or pencil?
    the first Britons to use the pens were the RAF’s fighter pilots, for
    whom the pens proved something of a revelation.”Fountain pens can
    explode or at least leak at high altitudes, so to have a reliable pen
    with you in the cockpit to note down important markers helped win the
    war,” says Miss Sellers.What about pencils? “You have to sharpen
    pencils, they’re not as user-friendly.”There is an old and oft-repeated
    rumour that because standard pens don’t work in zero-gravity, Nasa
    spent millions devising a space pen, while the Russians used
    pencils.But this has been debunked, not least because – strange to say
    - pencils pose dangers in space, from broken-off tips floating about
    and graphite and wood being flammable in a pure oxygen atmosphere. And
    it was not Nasa which developed the space pen, but inventor Paul
    Fisher, and it was adopted by both sides in the space race by 1968.

    Fit for purpose
    not the first everyday object in which manufacturers made a priority of
    user convenience, the Bic Biro is a fine example of what happens when
    an object is designed to make something that is easy to use.”If a
    designer thinks about how it works and what are all the qualifications
    that might entail, they’re asking the right questions,” says Miss
    Sellers.Nor does she see the pens being superseded by technology. Yes,
    a passing thought can easily be typed into a handheld device or a text
    message, but a ball-point doesn’t need batteries to work. It needs ink,
    but most have long since been lost, borrowed or stolen before running
    out.The one thing that hasn’t been cracked is washable ink – as anyone
    who has inadvertently left a ball-point pen in a pocket will attest.
    For artist Jon Burgerman, who specialises in Biro works (see Internet
    links, right), that is part of the pen’s charm.”It’s the ingenious
    rolling of that little ball. If you put one in your bag without a lid,
    you’re asking for it.”I like that the ink’s indelible – I get asked to
    do artworks on trainers and T-shirts, so it’s great that it doesn’t
    wash off. It’s easy to customise stuff without bothering with fabric
    paints. That’s invaluable for me, as a poor artist. I like Biros, pens
    are my friends.”