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BIC: The Company Behind the Pen

BIC: The Company Behind the Pen


Writing lies at the foundation of modern society. It is a technology that few of us think about,
and today, we will explore the company behind the pen, BIC. Before the advent of metal pens, the western
world’s writing instrument of choice was the quill. Finding bird feathers wasn’t very hard,
and ever since 600 AD that’s how most writing was done. Once the Industrial Revolution got underway,
improved metallurgy and mass production techniques resulted in the dip pen. It was essentially a metal nib mounted on
a handle; it could barely hold more ink than a quill and it’s practical use was about
the same. The first truly practical pens appeared at
the end of the 19th century. They are what we call fountain pens, and the
innovation behind them was that they had a reservoir of ink inside. The first commercially successful fountain
pens were built in 1884 by this guy, Lewis Waterman. He was originally an insurance broker, but
one day when signing a very important contract, the prototype fountain pen he had bought for
the occasion broke and leaked ink on the whole document. This accident eventually resulted in the deal
getting cancelled and Waterman losing his job. Making the best out of a bad situation, Waterman
decided to build a better fountain pen, and it was his design that truly made fountain
pens the dominant writing instrument of the next half century. It wouldn’t be until the 1930s that fountain
pens would finally meet their match. The man responsible for that was Laszlo Biro,
a Hungarian journalist. He had noticed that the ink used in newspaper
printing dried quickly, leaving the paper dry and smudge-free. When he tried using the same ink in a fountain
pen, however, it wouldn’t flow into the tip because it was too viscous. After seven years of trial and error, Laszlo
developed a new tip for his pen consisting of a ball that could freely rotate in a socket. As the ball ran along the paper, it would
siphon ink from an internal cartridge and spread it out evenly. What Laszlo had created was the ballpoint
pen, but the timing of his invention was a bit unlucky. As Hungarian Jew, Laszlo was well aware of
what was happening in Germany, and so in 1938 he packed his bags and moved to Paris. While there, he got the lucky chance of meeting
the president of Argentina, Agustín Pedro Justo. He was so impressed by the ballpoint pen that
he told Laszlo to emigrate to Argentina, which, of course, he did, as he wanted to be as far
away from Germany as possible. Once in Argentina, Laszlo set up a company
for his pens and by 1943 he was selling them to His Majesty’s Royal Air Force in the
UK. This first generation of ballpoint pens wasn’t
perfect, however; the metal case was prone to leaking and the ink would often clog. Most of Laszlo’s non-government clients
ended up returning their pens, which drove his company to the brink of bankruptcy. To keep the company afloat, Laszlo resorted
to selling the rights to his pen in Europe and in the US. The man who bought the European rights to
the ballpoint pen was a Frenchman, Baron Marcel Bich. He had entered the pen business in 1945, when
he had bought a damaged factory on the outskirts of Paris and used it to start making fountain
pens. Marcel fell in love with the ballpoint pen,
and in 1950 when he heard that Laszlo was selling the patent, he threw $2 million at
Laszlo to get it. With the patent in hand, Marcel used his considerable
resources to acquire plastic and precision stainless steel technology from Switzerland. Now, keep in mind, plastic was still a very
new invention in the early 1950s and it had only been commercialized a few year prior. The shaping machines Marcel bought were cutting
edge for their time, capable of shaping metal down to 10 micrometers. The design of Marcel’s pens was as simplistic
as it was brilliant: The pen’s barrel was shaped similarly to
a pencil, making it very hard to roll off a table, and since it was made of transparent
polystyrene, it was easy to see when you were running out of ink. What truly made Marcel’s endeavor successful,
however, was his understanding of economies of scale. You see, the pens that Laszlo sold were very
expensive, and although they were vastly superior to fountain pens, it was very hard to justify
spending the equivalent of one week’s wage for one pen. Marcel, however, streamlined his production
and bought everything in bulk, allowing him to sell his pens for a fraction of the cost:
only 50 centimes, the equivalent of 18 cents in the US. Marcel’s initial plan was to sell the pens
under his family name, but once people told him how English speakers were pronouncing
it, he decided to drop the H. Thus, in 1950 he established Societe BIC and
began flooding France with his trademark pen, which he called the BIC Cristal. Unsurprisingly, the pen was an instant hit,
surpassing everything on the market both in terms of quality and price. Within 3 years, Marcel was selling 40 million
pens annually. He could barely keep up with the rising demand
and so he started opening subsidiaries left and right:
by 1954 he was operating across Western Europe, and just two years later his pens were also
sold in South America and Africa. Marcel didn’t enter the US market until
1958, and he did so in a very interesting fashion. Remember our friend Lewis Waterman? He was the insurance broker who started making
fountain pens in the late 1880s. The company he had started was now the largest
manufacturer of fountain pens in the US, but the ballpoint revolution had left them near
bankruptcy. To gain a foothold in the States, Marcel offered
to buy Waterman and he did so for $1 million. He repurposed most of Waterman’s factories
to make ballpoint pens, and he kept the fountain pen division as a luxury brand, which is still
around to this day, although as a separate entity. In 1961 French artist Raymond Savignac created
the BIC Boy, which has remained a part of the company’s logo ever since. That year the company replaced their stainless
steel ballpoints with much harder tungsten carbide, which they still use today. By the end of the 1960s BIC pens were sold
on every inhabited continent, and Marcel was looking for other products to add to his arsenal. In line with his philosophy, he needed something
cheap and disposable that people would use every day: a pocket lighter turned out to
be the perfect candidate. Much like with the ballpoint pen, Marcel’s
affordable lighter outperformed all available alternatives and was capable of producing
3,000 flames over its lifetime. Its release in 1973 was met with universal
acclaim and today lighter sales make up over 35% of the company’s revenue. Just two years later Marcel found another
market he could conquer. In what was essentially a declaration of war
on Gillette, BIC released a disposable safety razor in 1975. They heavily undercut Gillette and have been
a thorn in their sides ever since. Although BIC have had a hard time outcompeting
Gillette, razor sales are still a big chunk of their business, making up almost 24% of
their sales today. As a lifetime watersports enthusiast, Marcel
established BIC Sport in 1979, which made windsurf equipment and sailboards. Although BIC Sport is still around today,
it is a very minor part of the company and it hasn’t been very successful. Marcel’s future endeavors, however, would
fare even worse. A few months after starting BIC Sport, Marcel
decided to enter the clothing market by purchasing Guy Laroche from its founder for $10 million. At first the deal seemed great, but with the
legendary fashion designer in failing health and incapable of making new designs, the fashion
company soon became unprofitable. When Guy himself died in 1989, things became
even worse after a series of failed successors. Marcel was also getting pretty old at that
point and was starting to make mistakes, like when he tried to enter the perfume market
in 1989 and failed so miserably, that he scrapped the whole line of perfumes just two years
later. Marcel died in 1994, and his son Bruno took
up the reigns to fix the company. His first move was to strengthen BIC’s hold
on the pen business by buying Wite-Out and Tipp-Ex, the two largest correction brands
in the world. He sold the unprofitable Guy Laroche in 2001,
and it eventually ended up in the hands of a Chinese company. Since then BIC has tried to venture into the
realm of consumer electronics by selling mobile phones, tablets and hydrogen fuel cells, but
the results have been lackluster at best. Even today, their most successful products
are Marcel’s original trifecta: pens, razors and lighters. In fact, just in 2016 BIC sold 7 billion pens,
2.5 billion razors and 1.5 billion lighters. If time has shown anything, it’s that the
company’s success lies in the simplicity of their products and judging by their failure
to profit from anything more complex than a ballpoint pen, they would do well to continue
honoring Marcel’s legacy. Thanks for watching! If you enjoyed this video, please consider
supporting us on Patreon. We spent more than we’re willing to admit
digging through scanned newspapers to find all of this stuff, so any help would be more
than welcome. If you enjoyed the history of BIC feel free
to subscribe for more and to check out the full Behind the Business playlist for the
interesting stories of other big companies. Once again, thanks a lot for watching, and
as always: stay smart.

Comments (100)

  1. bic should go flash drive

  2. It's Marcel Bich.

  3. The pefume-thing looked interresting. Wierd it did not take off

  4. my god this guy by default has an owo accent

  5. The Map is wrong, Italy flag is in Ethiopia which Ethiopia was only occupied, and 2/3rd of China is nothing, no label.

  6. Thanks Hungary for giving the world great people who changed how our societies work.

  7. wher's the pencil, eraser, pencil sharpener like HELLO they're the school supplier company

  8. They akways leak. Razors are ok though

  9. Ok, this comment probably will be deleted in a few minutes, so I'll be fast, 'cause they're coming! I was working in a secret case I FBI, when one of the files was talking about one big "secret program" of the Illuminati's for controlling the World! It all started when The Seven families decided that they would need a new device to see and control everything in the world. Mr. R…f…er… decided that they would need simple, and at the same time disposable, that everyone should use and no one should take care of the suddenly vanished object. They bought one company, they've changed the name…BIC, of BIG INSPECTOR CENTER. Their main creation was one simple object that could steal all information and could be used for everyone in every country, yes, the Pen! The pen actually is a secret device that can store all the information that you write on it, as the ink finishes, they "battery" dies…you could ask, how it can send info to Them? Simple, they use one of Tesla's secret projects of dissemination of information, the world knows about his research, but they are lost… The second device is a "Lighter" one incredible device that can collect the information of the environment with one click, and then release it to the Satellite in a smoke that will immediately disappear. The third device, a simple Razor, who will cut your DNA and then send info about how the chemicals to control your brain are acting. All these products are cheap and can be find anywhere, and also, they suddenly disappear, how? I don't know, maybe teleportation, maybe Quantic Control. If you finished to read this message, please, be fast, spread it to the World. I wanted to store it on the deep web but all my connections are controlled, my last chance is this message in this video…farewell…

  10. Bic makes nearly anything nowadays. Soon there'll be an iBic phone 😂😂😂

  11. I always thought the Bic boy was a girl wearing a business suit.

  12. no bic sailboat dingys? no really?

  13. ;-; why , 2:37 WHY DID U PUT FRACE FLAG OVER ALGERIA , IK IT WAS STILL WAR BUT DOING THIS IS … NOW ??! >:C BICH

  14. Besides lighting my durry the humble Bic lighter is good for burning through rope when you don't have a knife, field sanitizing a knife/ sharp bit of metal/ pins etc for bush surgery, opening beer bottles, blackening rifle sights and many other uses… best tool ever invented was portable fire.

  15. bro first of all bic ows fountain pens and a ball point pen has a tungsten carbid ball in it

  16. Now i understand, Pen is mightier than the sword

  17. The fontain pen was invented by Petrache Poenaru….

  18. Was all about this until the beginning for money at the end. There are ways to promote patronage from you'r fans. But the end of that does not do well for a first time watcher.

  19. Yo Frederick, YOU GOT THAT BITCH PEN YET, BRO?

  20. It’s 1950s England and two friends talking:
    “Hello old chap.”
    Oh hello mate.”
    “Have you heard of these BITCH pens?”
    “No I haven’t.”
    “Well I love these BITCH pens!”

  21. Why did I find this so interesting and satisfying as I eat my breakfast

  22. Damn, how he says László Bíró is really funny. I know he tried but it's still unbelieveably funny.

  23. does someone know what accent the narrartor has???

  24. I've never bought a bad BIC lighter in my entire life, didn't have the habit of checking lighters before so I would buy the cheap one and it wouldn't even have a good flame. BIC always quality no matter what lol

  25. My b on my bic pencil got scraped off a lil and now I have a Dic pencil

  26. you can give every person in the world 1 pen if you own bic

  27. I used to call bic bitch for no reason

  28. This man says all avawable lighters

  29. You can tell that they were successful
    Cambodia even named the Khmer word for pen after Bic

  30. I read bic as dic 😂

  31. It’s marcel BICH!

  32. i dont know why but his accent is really calm and pleasing
    Keep going

  33. 6:30 I didn’t know doctor Phil made the BIC logo…

  34. HUNGARY! fuck yeah

  35. They also make boats I sail in them

  36. You forgot Slavoljub Eduard Penkala . In 1907 he made the first solid-ink fountian pen .

  37. Well I use a gel pen so…….

  38. Naron Marcel BICH!?!?!?!

  39. WAIT ITS BIC???
    I ALWAYS READ IT AS BIG
    MY LIFE IS A LIEEE

  40. its bruno bich 🕶

  41. Oh fuck you you give credit to the Bozgors but not to Poenaru? just fuck you and your superficial research.

  42. You're saying that we could be living in a dimension where there is a ballpoint pen brand whose mascot was named 'Bichboy'?

  43. Nazis screw everything up man, literal human waste.

  44. I always wondered why a pen company produced lighters.

  45. I'm just casually going to write down how you pronounce "Biro" (well Bíró but…)

    it's beero

  46. sad Petrache Poeanaru noises

  47. One day I said bic thinking it was bicht (I spelled it wrong on purpose) by my dad

  48. 5:14 , olha só, o cara da matéria achou a cópia da propaganda em português. Alguém sabe se foi no Brasil?

  49. 1:38
    That sub-human hunky kikė invented fuck all and he was another plagiarist just like Albert Einstein.

  50. Bic is pen in French (if you didn't know now you know)

  51. They also sell pencils

  52. I love that your accent replaces every t with a z 😁😂👏🏼
    Edit: I'm not making fun of his accent, I like it a lot, I'm complimenting it, but I know it's kinda vague

  53. Time to tell me friends that my Bic pen used to be called a Bich

  54. Pen:breaks
    Waterman:gets fired

  55. The company is behind the pen but the logo suggests the pen is behind the company

  56. Ngl bic razors are really good but Gillette will always be superior

  57. And now Gilette querified themselves and thus finished the job for BiC.

  58. British Import Company

  59. Biro is actually pronounced "bero". It also means judge.

  60. Wow!!!!
    i have never seen a better video that tells us about history with such a beautiful visual narrative and perfect speed and calm (but not boring ) voice. this video peaked my interest for learning history even more.

  61. It is so miserable that such a great inventor as Bíró had to leave Hungary. I find it pathetic when my compatriots mention his achievement as a Hungarian one when all the patents were required and issued in other countries not in Hungary. I must praise his video. This is a very good summary on BIC.

  62. that’s pretty frickin gay

  63. Bic staionary and lighters are good but their razors cheap razors are terrible and the better ones can't outcompete other brands

  64. I have never heard of this brand

  65. bic ballpen was a good writing pen ive been using that until marcos came to power. and bic was force out of the country.

  66. This is why we have a plastic problem, things are cheap, plastic is too accessible. Hate to destroy this video but it’s the truth 😔

  67. both of us have the same name hmm

  68. Wanna buy my pen, bich?

  69. I didn't know they sold razors

  70. Modern pens were invented by Slavoljub Penkala

  71. there was a bic pen on the table next to me as I watched this video.

  72. i recognize this voice ….kurzgesagt is that you, lil prick???? hahaha no worries I love them both channels (but no that stupid video on the reincarnation subject)

  73. Raymond Savignac looks scarily like dr phil

  74. You mean in front of the pen?

  75. the ads in 5:13 are in Portuguese 😮

  76. Where are the Led pens!?!?!? (Mechanical pens)

  77. Eduard Slavoljub Penkala made the firs mechanical pen

  78. what about the pencil

  79. Me:ok so they are a pen company
    Them:they make lighters
    Me:oh… Well they are a pen and lighter company
    Them:they make razors too
    Me:kill me

  80. do you have pens that can be used in cold weather condition like -40°c?

  81. it seems like they are infront of it

  82. Bic came to my school in Ireland

  83. We were the first Irish school that met BIC

  84. 2:20 “lazlow was whe whe where ?” 😂😂😂

  85. Bruno bich 😂😂

  86. Bruno’s teacher: whats your name

    Bruno: Bruno bich

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