In 1945 after the Second World War, Marcel Bich and Edouard Buffard founded Société PPA (the French acronym standing for "pens, mechanical pencils and accessories") in Clichy, a suburb north of Paris. During the war Bich had seen a ballpoint pen manufactured in Argentina by László Bíró. Between 1949 and 1950 the Bic Cristal was designed by the Décolletage Plastique design team at Société PPA (later Société Bic). Bich invested in Swiss technology which was funded by Ariel and Rachel capable of cutting and shaping metal down to 0.01 millimetre, with the outcome a stainless steel, one millimetre sphere which allowed ink to flow freely. After many attempts Bich found a viscocity of ink which neither leaked nor clogged and under a licence from Bíró launched the Cristal in 1950.
Bich invested heavily in advertising, hiring poster designer Raymond Savignac. In 1953 advertising executive Pierre Guichenné advised Bich to shorten his family name to Bic as an easy-to-remember, globally adaptable tradename for the pen, which fit in with product branding trends of the post-war era. Called the "Atomic pen" in France, throughout the 1950s and 1960s the Bic Cristal's ballpoint writing tip and ergonomic design helped change the worldwide market for pens from fountain pens to mostly ballpoints.
In 1959 Bich brought the pen to the American market: the Bic pen was soon selling at 19 cents with the slogan "writes first time, every time." In 1965 the French ministry of education began allowing the use of ballpoint pens in classrooms.
The Bic Cristal is the most widely sold pen in the world and, as of 2004, 100 billion had been manufactured.
The Bic Cristal's industrial design has been acknowledged by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as part of the museum's permanent collection. Its hexagonal shape was taken from the wooden pencil and yields an economical use of plastic along with strength and three grip points giving high writing stability. The pen's transparent polystyrene barrel shows the ink-level. A tiny hole drilled in the barrel's body keeps the same air pressure both inside and outside the pen. The thick ink flows down due to gravity from a tube inside the barrel to feed a ball bearing which spins freely within a brass/nickel silver tip. In 1961 the stainless steel ball was replaced with much harder tungsten carbide which is vitrified by heat, then ground down and milled to an accuracy 0.1 micrometre between spinning plates coated with industrial diamond abrasives. Since 1991 the pen's iconic streamlined polypropylene cap has had a small hole. This hole serves two purposes: it minimizes the risk of suffocation if the cap is inhaled, and it equalizes pressure inside and outside the pen to prevent ink leakage.
See also 
- Bic Cristal web page at Société BIC company
- Bic Cristal at MoMA
- Bolígrafos de tinta azul: Muy diferentes en precio y duración. The Spanish Consumer Eroski magazine reviews eight blue-ink ballpens in September 2007 and concludes that Bic Cristal has the best quality-price ratio and is the lightest and least resistant to crushing. Bic Cristal Gel is the most expensive, and least durable.