I tried to remember just when the ball point first imposed itself onto my consciousness, but failed...I simply don't remember when they first started becoming the writing instrument of choice in my little world.
I was a tad surprised though, to find that the first patent for a ball point was taken out in October 1888, to a young American inventor called John Loud, who wanted a writing device for leather, thick wrapping paper and wood. This idea was not developed into a writing instrument for paper, being far too coarse, and so his patent finally lapsed.
It wasn't until László József Bíró, a Hungarian inventor, patented the first commercially successful modern ballpoint pen. While working as a journalist Bíró noticed that the ink used in newspaper printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge-free. He tried using the same ink in a fountain pen but found that it would not flow into the tip, as it was too viscous. He presented the first production of the ballpoint pen at the Budapest International Fair in 1931. Working with his brother György, a chemist, he developed a new tip consisting of a ball that was free to turn in a socket, and as it turned it would pick up ink from a cartridge and then roll to deposit it on the paper. Bíró patented the invention in Paris in 1938. During World War II, Bíró fled the Nazis with his brother, moving to Argentina in 1943. On 10 June, they filed another patent, issued in the US as 2,390,636 Writing Instrument, and formed Biro Pens of Argentina (in Argentina the ballpoint pen is known as birome). (Thanks, Wiki!)
Thus, over the next twenty or so years, the ball point was refined and developed until it became available to us all. The Bic Cristal is a popular disposable type of ballpoint pen whose design is recognized by its place in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Remember the Spirograph? Seeing my children use that tool to produce those geometric patterns was probably the first time I actually thought of the ball point as a drawing, rather than simply a writing tool.
Ball points are funny things. Some just feel right to use and some don't. I have owned quite expensive versions which did not "feel" right for me when writing, and then again I have had some complimentary pens, in particular one cheap little black favourite which came from a Canberra hotel room, which allowed me to write reliably, comfortably and aways felt "just right"...even my wonky handwriting developed a sophisticated smoothness which it rarely displays! That being said, I still prefer to use my fountain pen for letter and journal writing and a pencil for more mundane tasks...old habits...