Ballpoint Pen

English Listening Lesson

Listening level: 5
Audio file: 2:35 min
Story length: 350 words


Here is the listening file for this lesson.


Ballpoint Pens

Ballpoint pens are everywhere. Around the world, 57 ballpoint pens are purchased every second. How did this simple pen become so popular?

The history of the ballpoint pen begins in the 1930s.

Laszlo Biro was a newspaper editor. While working, he noticed that his fountain pen created problems. It regularly ran out of ink, so refilling was common. Sometimes ink made a mess on the paper. He wondered if it were possible to manufacture a better pen. So, he did.

Biro did not invent the ballpoint pen. He improved it. The first one was invented in the 1890s, but it did not work well. Its sharp tip frequently cut the paper. Occasionally, the ink came out too fast.

Biro made two important improvements. First, he placed a tiny metal ball inside a pocket at the tip of the pen. A small tube carries ink to the back of the ball. When the pen moves along paper, the ball spins. This turning action draws ink to the front of the ball. The ink on the ball sticks to paper. The ball and tiny space around it ensure a consistent amount of ink is delivered from pen to paper.

The second improvement was ink quality. Biro and his brother developed a thick ink. This change made the pen’s ink flow with greater consistency. In addition, their ink dried almost immediately after coming in contact with paper. This was an important change: people didn’t need to wait for the ink to dry.

Biro’s pen worked exceedingly well. But, it wasn’t successful until a Frenchman bought the manufacturing rights in 1950. Marcel Bich changed the pen’s design. He divided it into eight separate pieces that were easy to construct and put together in a factory. These changes greatly reduced costs and made it more reliable. He also changed the name to BIC, the first three letters of his last name. By 1965, BIC pens were available around the world.

The history of the ballpoint pen has a lesson for everyone. It’s not necessary to come up with an original idea before going into business. Sometimes improving an old idea is good enough.

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