Just the write tool

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 April, 2008, 12:00am

Age of the Ballpoint

Find synonyms for: smear, block, convince, copyright

If you write with a fountain pen, it takes a minute or so for the ink to dry. And unless you are careful, the ink will smudge.

In the 1920s Hungarian journalist Laszlo Jozsef Biro was constantly smudging his interview notes. This really annoyed him.

When walking through the company printing shop one day, Biro noticed that the ink used to run the printing press dried really quickly. He tried putting the quick-drying ink into his fountain pen, but it was too thick. The ink clogged the nib.

Biro didn't give up. He talked to his brother Georg who was a chemist and persuaded him to make thinner ink that dried quickly. When Georg made the new ink, Biro designed a new style of pen.

The biro had a cartridge filled with ink that flowed down a shaft into the tip of the pen. This tip was made of a small ball that turned in a socket. As the ball turned, it picked up ink and rolled it onto the paper.

Biro patented his biro in France in 1938.

Quick Pen Facts

In ancient China, scholars used thin brushes dipped in bowls of ink to write their poems, stories and letters. In ancient Egypt, they used reeds. In ancient Greece and Rome, they used goose feathers.

The problem with brushes, reeds and feathers is that they bend and break easily. This leaves blots and splashes all over the page.

A 2000-year-old bronze pen found in the ruins of Pompeii proves craftsmen tried to make more robust tools.

But even with metal tips, authors still risked ink splatters each time they dipped their pens into the pot of ink.

The idea of having a pen with its own reservoir or cartridge from which ink flows continuously to the nib began in the 1600s. But it wasn't until the 1880s that the first working fountain pens appeared.

Without the fountain pen, Biro wouldn't have come up with the ballpoint pen.

Also Presenting ...

Fill in the gaps with the following words: plain, pigments,

multi-coloured, hues

While most biros have just one ink, there are _______ ballpoints where you press the lever to choose between colours.

Simple products have three or four _____ inks like red, blue, black and green. Fancy ones have up to 10 _______ , including pink, purple, yellow and lime.

Because people use these pens to make temporary ballpoint tattoos, companies have to make sure ___________ aren't poisonous.

Ballpoints in Space

Choose the correct alternative:

Until recently many people thought biros wouldn't work in space. They prophesised/theorised that gravity draws the ink to the point of the pen on Earth. As there is no gravity in space, the ink shouldn't flow.

When astronaut Pedro Duque first went into space in October 1998, he took along a Space Pen with a pressure-ink cartridge that forces ink to float/flow to the nib.

To his surprise/relief he saw his Russian colleagues using ordinary ballpoints. They told him Russians have always used biros in space - without a problem.

When Duque went back into space in October 2003 on an International Space Station mission, he took along a cheap biro. And it worked!

fab fact!

Fisher Space Pens like the Millennium are designed to last a lifetime. Millennium pens contain enough ink to be able to write a sentence about 48 kilometres long.

fab fact!

Biro is a registered trademark and should be written with a capital letter. However, the term is often used to describe all ballpoint pens and is often written with a small 'b'.

fab fact!

Bic, the popular biro-making company, announced in September 2005 that it had sold its 100 billionth disposable ballpoint pen. This makes the biro the world's best-selling pen.


Answer the following questions. To test your memory, try answering without referring to the text. If you can't remember the details, read the piece again.

1. Who wrote with reed pens?

a. ancient Chinese

b. ancient Greeks

c. ancient Egyptians

2. Ballpoint inventor Laszlo Jozsef Biro was:

a. a Hungarian journalist

b. a Bulgarian journalist

c. a Bulgarian chemist

3. The fountain pen was invented:

a. about 2,000 years ago

b. about 1,200 years ago

c. about 120 years ago

4. What sort of biros work in space?

a. all biros

b. space biros

c. Russian biros

5. Bic has sold:

a. 100 million disposable ballpoints

b. 100 billion disposable ballpoints

c. 100 trillion disposable ballpoints


Synonyms: smudge, clog, persuade, patent

Choose correct alternative: theorised, flow, surprise

Fill in the gaps: multi-coloured, plain, hues, pigments

Quiz: 1. c, 2. a, 3. c, 4. a, 5. b