The Ball-Point Pen

What if you stopped off at the bank to cash a check and they wouldn’t accept it because it was written with a ball point pen? That’s what happened at our bank and many others in the 1950’s. As a tool being used in the transfer of money, the pen had to function in a near perfect manner to protect the banks from great liability.

The ball point pen was marketed during the late 1940’s but didn’t do well. They clogged and skipped and just weren’t satisfactory. At least two companies went out of business because they couldn’t make the things work consistently.

In the 1950’s, here they came again. The public was really enamored of them. The ball point was so much cleaner and more efficient than the old pens, ink wells, and blotters. There had been problems with the manufacturing of the balls and reservoirs and the ink itself. The pens clogged and skipped until you couldn’t figure out what the number or letter was supposed to be. There was even speculation that the ink might just disappear. This was giving the banks major headaches. When the pens skipped a few letters it might be impossible to read the date, the amount, or the signature. The pens were causing so many problems that our local bank and others finally said “whoa”. After World War II the world was hungry for new technology and we were being held back. The high-handed bank was keeping us from using these new toys. How dare they? This became a topic of conversation at the dinner table, at work, at school, and certainly at the barber shops and beauty shops of our town.

Over time, the kinks were worked out, the pens became reliable and the bank lifted the restriction against using them. However, this didn’t solve all the problems. Suddenly, there were chains affixed to the pens and they were being attached to the writing tables in the bank. The town was buzzing again! Doesn’t the bank trust its own customers? They think we are thieves! The problem was that the bank was buying high quality pens…much better than the public was getting at the dime store, so people wanted the good ones. Eventually it all died down and things became as you see them today.

Dave Thomas

3 thoughts on “The Ball-Point Pen

  1. Dave I remember first trying to use them in Bookkeeping class. Gus was having a fit when he saw blobs of ink on the page. They did get better and I think the first ones I remember were made by PaperMate. Good story, Keith >


  2. Isn’t it strange that things we take for granted now may have had such a tough time when they first appeared. It’s neat that you can tie this pen story back to Charlie Gus. Glad you enjoyed it.


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