Spotlight on: László Bíró

Since I’ve been writing so much about my recent trip to francophone Canada, I figure it’s about time for something completely different. Let’s talk about another great Hungarian inventor: László Bíró.

László Bíró photo from

Born in Budapest in 1899, Bíró worked in Hungary’s capital city as a journalist until the 1930s. He had noticed over the course of his work that the ink used to print newspapers dried faster than the India ink used in fountain pens. Writing articles and taking notes would be much easier with quick-drying ink… He began experimenting with ink formulas and instrument design in his spare time until he hit upon the now-commonplace ballpoint pen.

Unfortunately, Bíró’s innovation came at an inopportune time for Jewish Hungarians. He fled to Paris in 1938 and patented his design there, instead of his homeland. Then he moved to Argentina, where he opened up his pen factory in 1940. Bíró’s company enjoyed great success, even supplying the British Royal Air Force with the writing instrument for pilots to use at high altitudes! The inventor later sold his patent rights to Michel Bich (pronounced “bic”—sound familiar?) and sold his shares in stock to help his Jewish family escape the antisemitic atmosphere of 1940s Hungary.

So now, as you start to think about writing holiday cards, take a moment to remember the Hungarian who made writing them so much easier: László Bíró, inventor of ballpoint pens.


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