Back to basics: mechanics, history of the ballpoint pen

ballpoint pen with fountain pen
The ballpoint pen replaced the fountain pen and reed pen, which used ink applied directly to its nib from an inkwell or other sources.

It consists of a hollow barrel containing the ink and a pressurized gas. The cap contains an inner mechanism which when activated by pressing the button, releases a small amount of gas from the rear section. This forces the ink out through a hole in front where it can be used to write with.  Those mechinisms, however, do not describe your everyday Bic or Pilot pen!

Ballpoint’s pen tips rotate freely as one writes, so that the angle at which the pen is held controls how thickly or thinly ink is applied. The ink inside the ballpoint is held in a reservoir, and when pressure against paper is applied it forces a small amount of the liquid out past the tip. This provides enough pressure and friction with the page to leave behind an ink mark.

The ink is contained in a reservoir because the ballpoint tip contains no place for it to be stored. The friction of pressing against paper would cause all of the ink to come out at once, and so this pressure must instead be created by spring-loaded mechanisms within the pen.

The simplest ballpoint pens have a spring contained within them that can force ink out of the reservoir. This method is simple, but not very reliable or good at producing consistent line widths.

To combat this issue, pens with better mechanisms are used. Most of these use some form of a pump to force ink out through the tip. Some use a small piston that moves back and forth as it is pushed inward by the spring; others have a section inside where gears rotate in order to turn an axle which squeezes the reservoir.

The most complicated pens are the ones that use a pressurized cartridge. This type of pen typically contains either two or three pieces, and it uses a small cylindrical container to hold the ink. As one pushes on the ballpoint tip with their hand, this pressure forces ink out through a tiny hole.

History of Ballpoint Pens

 Fountain pens can be traced back as far as the 9th century AD (the Quill), but their use became widespread in the 19th century.

The ballpoint was introduced as a new pen type that worked on the principle of impressing a thick oil-based ink onto paper, as was used with the original fountain pens. However, the ball point pen used small balls to carry and distribute the ink to the writing surface.

A Hungarian named László Bíró patented his ballpoint pen invention in Austria-Hungary and then moved to Argentina after World War I.

Bíró was a journalist and cartoonist who lived in Argentina with his family. He created an early version of the ballpoint pen, but had problems producing it on a large scale. It wasn’t until around 1950 that the modern-day ball point pen was first mass produced.

It was first manufactured in the United Kingdom by a company called The Parker Pen Company, and they introduced it to the public in 1951. That same year, Bíró applied for another patent because he believed that he was entitled to royalties from his original invention.

The ballpoint pen is said by some to be a modern-day voodoo doll. It allows people to channel their feelings and emotions onto paper in liquid form, instead of using words!