Before we completely forget about October 29, and events that occurred on that day of the calendar, let’s pause for a moment to remember the introduction of the ballpoint pen. We do this because the ballpoint pen was such a symbol of modernity after World War II. And we do this because hand writing utensils seem to be losing fashion, as does handwriting itself.
Let’s not lose all the history. I wrote this first back in 2006, commemorating the ballpoint.
2006 was the 100th anniversary of the Mont Blanc company, the company that made fountain pens a luxury item even while fountain pens were still the state of the art of pens.
October 29 is the 68st anniversary (according to CBS “Sunday Morning”) or 69th anniversary (see Wikipedia) of the introduction of the ballpoint pen in the U.S., at Gimbel’s Department Store, in New York City. (I go with 1945.) It was based on a design devised in 1938 by a journalist named László Bíró. Biro produced his pen in Europe, and then in Argentina. But in the U.S., a businessman named Reynolds set up the Reynolds International Pen Company and rushed to market in the U.S. a pen based on several Biros he had purchased in Buenos Aires.
On October 29, 1945 (or 1946), you could purchase a “Reynolds Rocket” at Gimbel’s for $12.50 — about $130 today, adjusted for inflation.
Today I continue my search for a ballpoint or rollerball that will write in green, reliably, for grading. (Turns out red marks panic a lot of kids; some write in blue, so blue won’t work, nor will black; green is a great grading color.)
I use a Waterman Phileas ballpoint, a Cross Radiance fountain pen, a Cross Radiance rollerball (Radiance was discontinued about a year ago), a full set of Cross Century writing implements, a lot of Sanford Uniballs in various colors, and a lot of Pentel Hybrid K-178 gel-rollers, and some Pilot G-2 gel pens (though the green ink versions are unreliable). I also keep several Marvy calligraphic pens for signing things with a flourish. I have a box of $0.10 ballpoints in a briefcase for students who fail to bring a writing utensil. (Since 2006, I’ve added a Cross pencil similar to the old Radiance design, and another Cross ballpoint in black (the Waterman is blue); the most reliable green-ink pen I’ve found is a Pilot Bravo, but they are tough to find these days in any color, and green is even togher; plus, they are bold-line instruments.)
Jefferson probably wrote the Declaration of Independence with quills he trimmed himself. Lincoln probably used a form of fountain pen to write the Gettysburg Address, but he had no writing utensil with him when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. President Johnson made famous the practice of using many pens to sign important documents, such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964; he made gifts of the pens to people who supported the legislation and worked to get it made into law.
And, who said it? Brace yourself.
Beneath the rule of men entirely great,
The pen is mightier than the sword.
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Baron Lytton, wrote that, in Richelieu, act II, scene ii, a play he wrote in 1839.
Yes, he is the same Bulwer-Lytton who wrote the novel Paul Clifford in 1840, whose opening line is, “It was a dark and stormy night.”
The first ballpoint pen was sold in the United States on October 29, 1945, a few weeks after the surrender of Japan that ended completely the hostilities of World War II. It was a good year, and a good time to be writing. Still is, today.
- Art / Held at BallPoint (purecomplex.com)
- What is a Pen? (swainrach.wordpress.com)
- Doctor saves life with knife, ballpoint pen (prehospitalmed.com)
- U.S. Census Bureau Daily Feature for October 29 (sys-con.com)
- Ideafinder, the ballpoint pen
- “Only the store is gone,” story about Gimbel’s, in the New York Times, David K. Randall, February 19, 2006
- “The Write Stuff,” story of the first sales of ballpoint pens from the U.S. Census Bureau (!)