László Bíró

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For the Romanian weightlifter, see László Bíró (weightlifter).
László Bíró
Ladislao Biro Argentina Circa 1978.JPG
Bíró, c. 1978
Born László József Bíró
(1899-09-29)29 September 1899
Budapest, Austria-Hungary
Died 24 October 1985(1985-10-24) (aged 86)
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Nationality Hungarian
Other names Ladislas Jozsef Biro
Ladislao José Biro
Citizenship Hungarian, Argentine
Known for Inventor of the ballpoint pen
Religion Jewish
Spouse(s) Elsa Schick
Children Mariana
László Bíró (pen BIC) signature).jpg
The native form of this personal name is Bíró László József. This article uses the Western name order when mentioning individuals.

László József Bíró (Hungarian pronunciation: [ˈlaːsloː ˈjoːʒɛf ˈbiːroː], Spanish: Ladislao José Biro; 29 September 1899 – 24 October 1985) was an inventor of the first commercially successful modern ballpoint pen. An unsuccessful version was invented 50 years earlier by John J. Loud in 1888.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Bíró was born to a Hungarian Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary,[3] in 1899 to Mózes Mátyás Schweiger[4] and Janka née Ullmann.[5] He had a brother, György Bíró. After leaving school, he began work as a journalist in Hungary.

His invention[edit]

It was while working as a journalist that he noticed that the ink used in newspaper printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge-free. He tried using the same ink in a fountain pen but found that it would not flow into the tip, as it was too viscous.

He presented the first production of the ballpoint pen at the Budapest International Fair in 1931.[3] Working with his brother György,[2] a chemist, he developed a new tip consisting of a ball that was free to turn in a socket, and as it turned it would pick up ink from a cartridge and then roll to deposit it on the paper. Bíró patented the invention in Paris in 1938.

Birome's advertising in Argentine magazine Leoplán, 1945

During World War II, Bíró was forced to flee the Nazis. In 1943 the brothers moved to Argentina. On 10 June they filed another patent, issued in the US as 2,390,636 Writing Instrument,[6] and formed Biro Pens of Argentina (in Argentina the ballpoint pen is known as birome). This new design was licensed for production in the United Kingdom for supply to Royal Air Force aircrew, who found they worked much better than fountain pens at high altitude.[7]

In 1945 Marcel Bich bought the patent from Bíró for the pen, which soon became the main product of his Bic company, which has sold more than 100 billion ballpoint pens worldwide. In November of that same year, promoter Milton Reynolds introduced a gravity-fed pen to the U.S. market. The Reynolds Pen was a sensation for a few years, until its reputation for leaking and competition from established pen manufacturers overtook it. Bíró's patent was based on capillary action, which caused ink to be drawn out of the pen as it was deposited on the paper. Because the Reynolds workaround depended on gravity, it did not infringe but required thinner ink and a larger barrel.[8] László Bíró died in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1985. Argentina's Inventors' Day is celebrated on Bíró's birthday, 29 September.

On 29 September 2016, the 117th anniversary of his birth, Google commemorated Bíró with a Google Doodle for "his relentless, forward-thinking spirit".[9]

"Biro" trademark[edit]

Bíró's invention Birome

A ballpoint pen is widely referred to as a "biro" in many countries, including the UK, Ireland, Australia and Italy.[10][11] Although the word is a registered trademark, in some countries, it has become genericised.


  1. ^ 392,046 Pen Oct 1888
  2. ^ a b Stoyles, Pennie; Peter Pentland (2006). The A to Z of Inventions and Inventors. p. 18. ISBN 1-58340-790-1. Retrieved 2008-07-22. 
  3. ^ a b "Golyó a tollban – megemlékezés Bíró László Józsefről". Hungarian Patent Office (in Hungarian). Retrieved 2008-07-22. 
  4. ^ https://www.geni.com/people/L%C3%A1szl%C3%B3-B%C3%ADr%C3%B3/6000000037993001509
  5. ^ https://www.geni.com/people/Janka-Ulmann/6000000037993408035
  6. ^ "US2390636 "Writing Instrument"" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-08-05. 
  7. ^ Bevan, Rob; Wright, Tim (2005). Unleash your creativity: Strategies for instant creativity. Oxford: Infinite Ideas. pp. 82–83. ISBN 9781904902171. 
  8. ^ Rosenberg, Robert Leonard (1971). The Ventures and Adventures of an Errant Entrepreneur: Milton (Ball-point) Reynolds (1892-). PhD Thesis. University of Washington.
  9. ^ "Ladislao José Biro's 117th birthday". Google.com. Retrieved 2016-09-29. 
  10. ^ Room, Adrian (1983). Dictionary of Trade Name Origins. Routledge. p. 41. ISBN 0-7102-0174-5. Retrieved 2008-07-22. 
  11. ^ "Biro nell'Enciclopedia Treccani" (in Italian). Retrieved 2013-05-22. 

External links[edit]