Ladislao José Biro may not be well known but his invention — the ballpoint pen — is one of the most widely used instruments found anywhere today. Google's regular doodle series is celebrating the inventor's 117th birthday on Thursday 29 September, by using a doodle with the words Google scribbled using a ballpoint pen, alongside an animated version of how the roller ball works.
"Today we celebrate Biro and his relentless, forward-thinking spirit and the 117th anniversary of his birth," says Google.
The pen, now a commonly used item throughout the world, was the brainchild of the "sometime journalist, painter and inventor", who came up with the idea after becoming frustrated with fountain pens blotting and smudging.
A visit to a newspaper printing press which used quick drying ink and a roller, gave him the idea of a ballpoint pen. "It got me thinking how this process could be simplified right down to the level of an ordinary pen," he later said, reports The Telegraph.
After several unsuccessful attempts, which failed due to the type of ink used, Biro worked with his brother György Bíro, a chemist by trade, to create an ink with the right viscosity for his new type of pen. The pen effectively uses a revolving ball, which picks up ink from a cartridge and deposits it on paper, very much like how a newsprint roller transfers an inked image to paper.
The first prototype of Biro's ballpoint pen was unveiled at the Budapest International Fair in 1931. He later patented his invention on 15 July, 1938, with his namesake, "Biro".
The pen is still called a biro in several countries, including the UK, Ireland, Australia and Italy. In the US, it is known as the ballpoint pen, reports the Telegraph.
Production of the pen began in 1944 under the name of Eterpen and retailed for the equivalent of £33, the newspaper said.
Biro was born in Budapest in Hungary in 1899 into a Jewish family as László József Bíró. In 1940, he fled the country during the Nazi occupation and settled in Argentina where he achieved the backing to commercialise his patent.
Curious facts about the ballpoint pen
While credit is due to Biro, he was not the first person to have come up with the idea of a rollerball system for a pen. John Loud is believed to have patented the first ballpoint pen in 1888, but because he failed to turn it into a commercial product, the patent lapsed.
A curious fact, which many may not be aware of - the biro also played a vital role in the British Armed Forces during the Second World War (WWII). British accountant Henry George Martin became the first backer of Biro's pen and the first bulk purchaser of the pen was the Royal Air Force, which put in an order of 30,000 units during the Second World War due to its ability to work at high altitudes.
Astonishingly, the price of the pen in the US has remained the same at around $0.19, since when it was first put on sale in 1959.