Design Moment: The Bic Pen, 1938

Bich Cristal Biro became global brand in 1953 when the ‘h’ was dropped from name

Bic biro: its transparent casing allows users to see how close they are to running out of ink. Photograph: iStock

Bic biro: its transparent casing allows users to see how close they are to running out of ink. Photograph: iStock

 

Laptops and smart technology dominate talk of back-to-college kit but there’s always a need for a biro – the generic name (and for a good reason) for the disposable and cheap ballpoint pen.

In 1938 Hungarian journalist Laszlo Biro, looking for something speedier to write with than a fountain pen, and more permanent than a pencil, invented the ballpoint pen – the ball in the nib was his clever idea to deliver the thick newsprint ink he used on to the page. The second World War saw him emigrate to Argentina and the mass manufacture of his invention was put on hold.

Refined design

After the war, French industrialist Marcel Bich bought the rights, refined the design and started mass-producing the Bich Cristal Biro in such numbers that it became affordable.

The barrel, in transparent polystyrene, is hexagonal like a pencil so it wouldn’t roll off a desk, and with a hole in the barrel to help keep air pressure inside and outside equal to help ink flow. In 1953, a French adman had the idea of dropping the “h” in the name and Bic, an easy to say word anywhere, became a global brand.