The first ballpoint was invented by American inventor John Loud. He wanted to invent a pen which could write on coarse surfaces such as leather and wood. Loud’s pen had a small rotating steel ball, held in place by a socket. He patented the pen in 1888, but he failed to turn it into a commercial product and so his patent expired.
Ballpoint pen was reinvented by László József Bíró who was a journalist from Hungary. He was frustrated with fountain pens as they required constant refilling and also caused smudges on paper. Once while visiting a newspaper printing press, he was inspired by the quick-drying ink and roller used. He took up the idea and applied the same principle to pens.
The quick-drying newspaper ink used in the fountain pen was too thick and took time to reach the tip of the nib. So he created a ballpoint nib which was coated with a thin film of ink from the cartridge as it made contact with paper and spun in its socket. Biro took the help of his brother György, a chemist, to create ink of the right viscosity. They named their invention ‘Biro’ and patented it in 1938
The pen was licensed by the British, who produced them for the Royal Air Force. The pen could work at high altitudes unlike fountain pens which were prone to leakage. A number of pens were ordered during the Second World War. After the war it entered commercial production. The pen is still called a biro in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Italy. It is known as a ballpoint pen in US.