The Bic -- World's First Chewable Pen
They are so ubiquitous now that we hardly even think about them, except when they run out of ink. But there was a moment in history when Bic pens had an impact on the lives of almost everyone.
The year was 1959 and I was in third grade when my friends and I acquired our first 19-cent Bic ballpoint pens at the stationary and candy store at the Albertson train station on Long Island. They were among the first cheap and disposable plastic items to enter our lives.
Things would never quite be the same.
Before the Bic, we basically had two types of pens -- the fountain pen, which required one to purchase ink in a small jar and draw the ink into the pen using a small built-in pump (Later we could purchase disposable cartridges of ink that one inserted in the pen). Fountain pens were messy. If you left the nib on the paper too long, you got a spot the size of a dime. They also had a tendency to leak, thus wreaking havoc on our shirts and pants.
The other kind of pen was the ballpoint, but not the disposable kind. These were made by companies like Parker, Scheaffer and Cross, and also came with refills. When a refill ran dry, you replaced it with a fresh one.
Whether ballpoint or fountain pen, these things were fairly expensive. You didn’t want to have to go home and tell your mom that you’d broken or lost it.
The first chewable pen, part 1
It surely wasn’t intended as part of the appeal, but Bic pens were chewable. Whereas most things meant to be chewed – gum, candy, etc – were banned in classrooms, pens were a necessity. Personally, I preferred to begin with the little stopper at the back end. It fit easily in your mouth and didn’t appear to detract from the functionality of the pen. The only problem with chewing the stopper was that it was
Although I’m certain I tried.
The first chewable pen, Part 2
The part of the Bic pen that you could chew repeatedly was the top, along with the little scoop-shaped thingie (which many years later – during the time of disco and Studio 54 -- proved to be an invaluable backup for other purposes), that was supposed to hook the pen to your shirt pocket. You could chew on one of these for quite a while and still get it to fit back on your pen. Although eventually – around the time that it began to resemble reptilian roadkill – it would begin to crack and flatten and become useless.
At this point the owner of the pen was faced with several choices. You could continue to carry it around without its top, which sooner or later usually resulted in a stain similar to the ones fountain pens caused.
Or, you could dismantle the pen and use the clear plastic tube as a more than adequate spitball launcher.
The first chewable pen, Part 3
Hardcore Bic pen gnawers did not stop after the plug and top were chewed. They went for the tube itself, which, even though it was made of harder plastic, didn’t prevent it from enduring a thorough mastication. I seem to recall, however, that given enough chomping, the tube tended to fracture into possibly dangerous slivers and splinters. Perhaps school nurses could shed more light on this?
And even that wasn’t the end of a Bic pen’s epicurean delights, for once the tube was breeched, the truly dedicated gnawer could procure that sliver of blue or black delicacy, the cartridge. As anyone who has ever gone that far knows, the cartridge of the Bic pen is composed of some of the softest, most delectable plastic available. But you had to be careful. One chomp too many and you could suffer the dreaded blight of Navy blue lips.
And finally, the bic pen and the demise of the old-fashioned wooden school desk
This is probably a bit of a stretch, but it seems to me that the arrival of the Bic pen coincided with the end of those old (comparatively soft and easiest gouged ) wooden school desks, and the arrival of the modern (comparatively hard and difficult to scratch) laminate desk.
I seem to recall, or imagine I recall, that the switchover came around 4th or 5th grade, which would have been right around the time the Bic appeared. Coincidence? Or did that tough rollerball point prove too tempting to those of us who needed to carve our initials and other expressions in wood?