The summer program I work for in Paris had a daily newsletter with bad jokes, a skill-testing question about French culture, as well as the details of upcoming activities. I was generally able to ace the daily culture question, but was utterly stumped by one about the most frequently purchased French product. I guessed Chanel No. 5, but was greeted with a pitying head shake. No, the most popular French product was not an exemplar of le luxe français, but rather the humble Bic pen. I hadn’t even realized that the pen I had used so often was French!
The ubiquitous disposable ball-point pen known as the Bic Cristal was invented in 1950 by Marcel Bich and Édouard Bouffard. The revolutionary design caught on and challenged the supremacy of the leaky fountain pen. Today, it continues to outsell all contenders, with over 100,000,000,000 (that’s 100 BILLION) sold, or one every 57 seconds since its inception. The simple, iconic design that lets the user see how much ink remains has been enshrined at the twin temples of modern art, the MoMA in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris. World dominance through disposability. Amazing.