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.