Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Ubiquitous Bic

I remember when I was a kid growing up in Cleveland the McDonald's there used a sign to announce how many burgers they had sold since inception. Seems like way back then I recall when the sign read "Over One Million Sold," though I could be wrong.* That's nowhere near the more than 300 billion sold today. One online stat states that in 2014 the fast food giant sold 75 hamburgers every second. That's a lot of burgers.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines ubiquity as "presence everywhere or in many places especially simultaneously." It certainly seems to apply today for McDonald's, which has now opened 200 stores in China.

Big Macs aren't the only ubiquitous product of Western capitalism. How about those u-Bic-quitous Bic pens we all used in school while growing up?

One criticism of Capitalism is the development of a seemingly unending supply of disposable goods. Land fills are indeed full of them. For some reason, however, buying a pen with refillable cartridges has its limitations. And who doesn't like "cheap"? Unless your writing utensil is also a status symbol, you probably don't mind cheap pens, as long as they don't leak in your pocket.

This week on WiseGeek.com the following Bic stats caught my attention. In 2005 the company reported that its sales had topped the 100 billion mark. Since the company's introduction of the throw-away ballpoint pen in 1950, they have sold 57 pens a second. Bic estimates that if you lined up all the pens they've sold end-to-end they would reach to the Earth to the Moon approximately 40 times.

Bic pens were created and sold in France beginning in 1950. They were introduced to the U.S. market in 1959. The 19 cent pens were an immediate hit. Their slogan: "Writes first time, every time." Pretty catchy. It immediately answers the first objection that comes to mind about such a cheap pen.

The company took its name from its founder, Baron Marcel Bich, who bought a small factory outside Paris after World War II and had planned to manufacture fountain pens. Instead, Bich invented a pen that delivered ink with a rolling ball.

Bich didn't stop with pens. According to WiseGeek, Bich "also struck gold with a disposable lighter that provided 3,000 lights before wearing out." His forays into disposable underwear and a Bic-branded perfume were flops.

My personal pen of choice these days is the retractable TUL gel pen. But that's another story.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Recommendation: Grab a pen and scribble your observations into a journal now and then, because even the weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory. Enjoy your day.

* Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald's in 1955 when I was three. They claimed to have sold the one-millionth burger in 1963, the year I turned ten, so it's very possible I saw that sign.  

2 comments:

LEWagner said...

The common word for pen in Lao is "bic".

Ed Newman said...

Interesting.