Milton Reynolds and The First Ballpoint Pen of USA

Milton Reynolds always knew how to read the signs. His longest lasting, most successful venture would be making signs, but what he’d come to be known for was the ballpoint pen. Reynolds never claimed to have invented the ballpen. He merely developed a new version with some very smart people to get past the original patents by Biro. What he certainly did, for a brief moment, was to make ballpens the most exciting thing in stationery.

When he first saw the Biro ballpoint pen in a high-end department store in 1945, he had already gotten into and out of several businesses and fortunes. Reynolds realized what a revolution in writing the ballpen was and knew it was going to take over the world. If he could just get ahead of the curve, there was a lot of money to be made, so he set off on this mission.

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Bíró’s invention Birome, Image Courtesy – Wikimedia Commons

While he’s remembered for his publicity stunts, Reynolds did put in the work. He spent time and money to not only reverse-engineer the workings of Biro’s ballpen, but also took the next step to develop one which didn’t use the capillary action which was part of the patented mechanism. His team developed the first gravity feed ballpoint pen of its kind. He used war surplus aircraft aluminium for the pen barrels to make it feel premium and he was in business.

That’s when the showmanship comes in. His pen would be hitting the American market before his competitors. It was just a few months after the end of the Second World War. People were exuberant and wanted to believe in the bright, futuristic times to come. He found that his pen could write on wet paper, so he came up with a campaign which said, “It writes under water!”

This was not strictly true. Plus the haste with which the pens had been made meant a whole slew of leaks and issues early on, but the crowd went wild. Literally. For the launch of the pen in New York in October 1945, thousands lined up outside the Gimbles department store for the $12.50 pen. This cost had been limited by post war pricing restrictions but it was still a princely sum for a pen. Worth about a night’s stay in a good hotel at the time. Police had to be called in to control the 5000 strong queueing crowd and the Reynolds pen was a smash hit.

The official Biro pen was licensed to more established pen companies in the US who sued Reynolds for patent infringement. Reynolds counter-sued and the media war over the ballpen was in full session. Milton  was a smart man and knew he couldn’t hold out against larger manufacturers in the long run, so he made one last ditch effort at a big splash. He bought an old B-26 bomber from the war, refitted it, hired a decorated crew and flew around the world.

The Reynolds Bombshell beat Howard Hughes’ circumnavigation record at the time by completing the journey in 79 hours with four refueling stops. This historic journey coincided with the launch of the new Reynolds Rocket pen, and it sold a bundle.

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Image Courtesy –

Milton Reynolds could feel his lead ending. Being a shrewd businessman, he sold the Reynolds Pen company and its rights to various parties around the world and cashed out. He continued working on his sign company and eventually moved to Mexico city to live out his life large, as he always had.

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The Reynolds Pen Company name in the US was sold to the government and it was renamed to the Reynolds Construction Company and was allegedly used to make secret payments to foreign regimes. It would be quite the dramatic irony if someone as publicly flamboyant as Milton Reynolds had also had a secret life as a spy, but we’ll never know. Maybe showmanship was his best disguise, or maybe the rumours about the might of the pen are not all myth after all. 

  1. We test out the classic Reynolds 045 Red Ballpoint Pen. Named after its founder Milton Reynolds, the pen made its grand debut in 1945 and continues to be one of the most well-known ballpoint pen brands –
  2. We test the BiC Cristal Up set of special coloured ballpoint pens which are quirky, cute and part of the bestselling pen series in history –
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