By TIME Staff
September 29, 2016

Ladislao José Bíro was born 117 years ago today, and while you may not have heard of him before, you’re surely familiar with his most lasting invention: the ballpoint pen.

Google’s latest Doodle honors the Hungarian tinkerer, with a nifty animation illustrating how the pen works.

Bíro was born into a Jewish family in Budapest in 1899. While working as a journalist, he noticed that newspaper ink dried more quickly than the handwritten words pouring out of his fountain pen. Determined to take clean, smudge-free notes, he teamed up with his brother, a chemist, to create the perfect writing apparatus.

Together they created a new tip with a tiny ball-bearing, which picked up traces of their unique quick-drying ink as it rolled across a notepad. The Bíro pen was patented in 1938. The rest is history.

The ballpoint pen is still often called a “biro” in several countries, including the U.K., Ireland, Australia and Italy. In Argentina, where the brothers moved in the 1940s after fleeing the Nazi occupation of Hungary, it is known as a “birome”. Even today, the ballpoint pen still holds the honor of world’s most-used writing instrument.

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