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It started as an answer to leaky pens carried by U.S. soldiers during the Second World War, was perfected and made popular by an Italian-born baron and has written its way into history as the world's biggest-selling pen.

More than half a century after honing a cheap version of the ballpoint pen, Société Bic SA, the French firm which built an empire out of making things to be thrown away said yesterday it had sold its 100 billionth -- 100,000,000,000th -- disposable ballpoint.

The group started small after the war and now has annual revenue of about €1.4-billion ($2.05-billion), including sales of razors and lighters. It reported the milestone along with first-half profit.

"The pens have been sold on average 57 times a second since 1950," Société Bic SA said.

Its founder, Baron Marcel Bich, originally planned to make fountain pen parts when he bought a factory with his partner Edouard Buffard outside Paris at the end of the war. But a chance encounter with a wheelbarrow changed all that, recalls his son Bruno Bich, who now runs the firm.

"My father told me that one day he was pushing a wheelbarrow when it dawned on him that the ball was a multifaceted wheel and this was the best way to convey ink," he told Reuters.

"So he put all his investment into the ballpoint. He was the first to use very precise production techniques," he added.

Ballpoint pens had been sold before the war for the then-luxurious sum of $5 and were brought to Europe by American GI soldiers, Mr. Bich said. Only they leaked.

Looking for a catchy name for his new product, the baron shortened his own to BIC and snapped up patents including Laszlo Biro's design for a non-disposable pen with a rotating ball. BB (Paris) fell 78 euro cents ($1.14) to €47.81. Reuters

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