They Laughed at Galileo F

Landislas Biro (Behind the Brands)

Prior to the 1880’s the only way to write anything down onto paper was to use something that could be fashioned in to a nib, such as a feather or piece of wood or shell, and dip it into an inkwell. Or use a pencil. That is unless you had one of those fountain pens that had become popular with the rich and famous but many of them still had to be dipped in ink until the 1880’s when fountain pens began to be mass produced for the first time. However, if you were a humble tradesman you probably couldn’t afford one of those. A tradesman such as the leather tanner, John J. Loud, for example.

During the early 1880’s John J. Loud, from Weymouth, Massachusetts, had been experimenting with ideas for things he could use to mark his leather products, without much success. The fountain pen that he had often failed to work and so Loud set about designing a pen that had a thin metal tube with a tiny, rotating steel ball held in place by a small burr. His idea was to fill the tube with ink, let it coat the ball and continue to do so as it rolled across the leather, leaving ink marks in whatever pattern he chose to make, including words, obviously. Loud was excited by his design and even filed a patent for a ‘roller ball tip marking pen’ which was awarded on 30 October 1888 in his own name.

The problem Loud faced was that whilst his design worked adequately on leather, and other rough surfaces, it was not so efficient on smooth surfaces, such as paper. Loud realised that with a little development he could refine his design but was told by everybody he approached that he was wasting his time. After all, the perfect pen had already been designed and was now in mass production. Why, they even delivered their own ink in those modern times and there was no more need for dipping, or inkwells, or any smudges. ‘You are too late Mr Loud,’ they told him, ‘we already have the perfect pen thank you.’ And with that John L. Loud went back to stitching handbags, or shoes, and no more was heard of him.


No more was heard of his idea either until 1935 when a Hungarian newspaper editor was becoming annoyed by the amount of time he wasted filling up his, by then, old fashioned fountain pen. He was also fed up with clearing up ink smudges and his nib tearing through the newsprint. But he noticed how the ink from his newspaper press dried ten times faster than that of his pen and so Landislas Biro, with some help from his brother Georg, a chemist, set about finding a solution. Over the following few years Landislas experimented with ball tipped designs of the exact nature John J. Loud had patented all those years earlier whilst Georg developed ink samples using the thinner, lighter inks of the printing press. During the summer, whilst taking a break from their work they were at the seaside where they met a fascinating old gentleman who loved their model of a ball point pen. The old man turned out to be Agustin Pedro Justin, the serving president of Argentina who urged the brothers to move to his country where he would help them fund a factory.

The following year, as war broke out in Europe, the brothers did just that and fled to Argentina, stopping off in Paris to file a patent along the way. Once they had settled in they found no shortage of investors and established a factory in 1943. But they found their new pen didn’t work very well at all and they had to go back to the drawing board and refine their design. The second version faired a little better but sales throughout the country did not meet their expectations and eventually the money ran out. Although not before American pilots, who had been stationed in Argentina during the war, returned to America full of enthusiasm for the new pens that worked perfectly at altitude and did not need re-filling very often.

The U.S Air Force sent specifications to a handful of American companies and one of them, in an attempt to corner the market, paid the Biro brothers half a million dollars for the U.S manufacturing rights to their patent. Meanwhile, a Chicago salesman called Milton Reynolds, who had bought several Biro’s whilst on holiday in Argentina, thought he could avoid any legal problems because the original patents had expired and so he set about copying Biro’s design, (or Loud’s depending upon your viewpoint) with sufficient improvements that allowed him to obtain his own U.S Patent.

US Jacket

Reynolds then showed his prototype to his friend Fred Gimbel whose family owned the Gimbel Department Stores who were, at one time, the largest store chain in the world. Gimbel arranged a clever marketing campaign and launched the new ball point pen in New York City on 29 October 1945, just two months after the end of the Second World War. Priced at $12.50, the cost of a single night in a decent New York City hotel room, Gimbel’s sold out their entire stock of 10,000 within two hours as 5000 people crowded into the shop. The New York Police Department had to despatch fifty officers simply to maintain crowd control. Over the following six weeks the Reynolds International Pen Company worked around the clock to make eight million pens in order to keep up with demand. Reynolds became a very wealthy man and even bought a magnificent French estate, the Chateau Mesnil St. Denis to use as the headquarters of his European division. But Reynolds was an astute businessman and realised other companies would soon be flooding the market with cheaper versions of their own ball point pens and so he sold his company and retired to South America in 1947.

Extract from  They Laughed at Galileo  (May 7th, 2015)  US Here  &  UK Here

Albert Jack books available for download here

Shrapnel: Maximum Damage

Shrapnel is a fascinating word that sounds as though it must have been around forever – one of those words in English clearly reflecting its Scandinavian roots. Sadly, this impression is completely wrong, for the word itself is far more recent in origin.

It has evolved in meaning too. The modern dictionary definition of ‘shrapnel’ is ‘fragments of an exploding bomb’, whereas originally, during the First World War, it meant the whole explosive device, not just parts of it. ‘Shrapnel-shells’ were designed as anti-personnel artillery, packed with bullets that would discharge close to the target with the obvious intention of killing or maiming as many of the enemy as possible. Shrapnel-shells were far more effective for the purpose than a conventional bomb, but they became obsolete at the end of the war when they were replaced with high-explosive shells, which did much the same job but whose deadly fragments were still known as ‘shrapnel’.

The original First World War weapon was named after Major General Henry Shrapnel (1761–1842), a British Army officer and inventor who served in the Royal Artillery during the Napoleonic Wars (1803–15). He devised a hollow cannonball filled with grapeshot, which was attached to a rocket and designed to burst in midair, creating multiple casualties. Shrapnel’s idea was not to kill enemy soldiers but to maim them, since a dead man needs no immediate attention whereas a wounded one requires the attention of at least two others, if only to remove him from the battlefield. Such was the success of his invention that Henry Shrapnel was awarded over £1,000 in 1814, a considerable sum of money in those days, and in 1827 was promoted to the post of Colonel Commandant of the Royal Artillery.

The first verse of the American national anthem proudly describes the Americans resisting an onslaught of shrapnel by the British Army during the pivotal Battle of Baltimore in 1812: ‘And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, / Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.’

Branded – The People Behind the World’s Biggest Brands

Albert Jack books available for download here

The Diesel Engine

Rudolf Diesel (1858–1913) was born in Paris, the son of a German bookbinder. At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War (1870) the family were forced to leave their home, along with most other German natives in France, and fled to London instead of returning east. However, they did send twelve-year-old Rudolf back to their home town of Augsburg to live with his aunt and uncle, the mathematics professor Christoph Barnickel. After graduating the top of his class Rudolf enrolled in the Royal Bavarian Polytechnic of Munich, against the wishes of his parents who wanted him to return to London and find a job to help support the family.

Instead, Rudolf studied under the German engineer Carl von Linde, the pioneer of refrigeration, although he failed to graduate after falling ill with typhoid and missing his examination. But he persevered, using his time to study practical engineering, and finally graduated in 1880 at the age of twenty-two before joining von Linde, who was by then himself in Paris building a refrigeration and ice plant. Within one year Diesel was offered the position of managing director and one of his first decisions was to develop a more efficient engine and power supply than present-day steam engines industry relied upon.

The main problem with steam engines was that their loss of heat and energy meant they only provided about 10 per cent of the power of which they were capable. He set about creating a new engine that would transfer as much of an engine’s energy as possible into useful work and so he started experimenting with current engines in an effort to discover a way to modify them. Von Linde supported his research and the company filed many patents during the course of Diesel’s work. However, early attempts proved to be disastrous, and almost fatal, as one of his test engines exploded and almost killed him. After many months in hospital, Rudolf Diesel returned to his work with a new idea. He had remembered from his younger days how his bicycle pump heated up at the valve when compressed air, from the piston mechanism, was forced into the tyre.

By 1891 von Linde had lost patience with his protégé and the two men parted company. Diesel was forced to find new funding to continue his work and between 1893 and 1897 Heinrich von Buz, an engineer from the Diesel family’s home town of Augsburg, provided the facilities. Finally, in 1895, Rudolf Diesel was granted a patent in Germany and the United States for his compression-ignition piston engine that worked, largely, along the lines of a bicycle pump where a piston would force air to become hot enough to ignite fuel, which would propel the piston back down to repeat the cycle.

It was a huge advancement on the steam engines that had been used for the previous 200 years. More importantly, he was just in time to influence the growing car and forthcoming aviation industries. Neither of which would have been possible without Diesel’s perseverance and bravery, not to mention his bicycle pump. And he knew it too, writing to his wife: ‘I am now so far ahead of everything that has been achieved that, in the manufacture of engines on our little planet, I now lead the field on both sides of the ocean.’

With his patents secured, the thirty-seven-year-old inventor became a very wealthy man as his engines were soon being built all over the industrial world. But his wealth was to be short lived as expensive legal battles in defending his patent, poor investments and his family’s lavish lifestyle all began to take their toll. The money was running out quickly and, when he became aware of it, Diesel arranged a series of crisis meetings at both his manufacturing headquarters in London and with his financiers.

On the evening of 29 September 1913, Diesel was on his way to London on board the mail steamer SS Dresden when he retired to his cabin, after dining, at 10 p.m., asking to be called at 6.15 a.m. The following morning crew members reported to the captain that there was no sign of the famous inventor. His cabin was empty, his bed had not been slept in and his nightshirt was neatly laid upon it. His pocket watch was on the bedside, his hat and overcoat neatly stored. Rudolf Diesel was never seen again. A Dutch steamer retrieved a corpse from the North Sea ten days later but it was too badly decomposed to identify.

The crew removed all personal belongings and buried the body at sea. A few days later Rudolf’s son, Eugen, identified the items as belonging to his father. Suicide emerged as the most likely explanation, especially as the only entry he made in his diary for that day was a black cross. He had also given his wife a bag with instructions not to open it until the following week. Inside were a number of bank statements, all with balances of virtually zero, and 200,000 German marks in cash. However, murder was never ruled out as his business and military interests may have provided a motive.

A mysterious end for a man whose engines were, by that time, powering manufacturing plants, locomotive engines, cars, lorries, airships, aeroplanes, submarines and ships. Today, a century later, Rudolf Diesel’s engine remains one of the most important sources of power on the planet.

Branded – The People Behind the World’s Biggest Brands

Albert Jack books available for download here

Starbucks – Behind the Brands

Starbucks is, of course, the world’s largest coffee-house chain, and the word is by now almost synonymous with ‘coffee’. But it could all have been so different.

When teachers Zev Siegel and Jerry Baldwin first teamed up with writer Gordon Bowker to open their first coffee house in Seattle in 1971, one of the first decisions to be made was to agree on a catchy name for the new venture. A fan of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851), Bowker originally suggested ‘Pequod’, the name of the whaling ship central to the story.

That was until someone pointed out that nobody would want to drink a steaming mug of ‘pee-quod’. It was back to the drawing board. Staying with the theme of the novel, however, the team eventually settled on Starbuck, Pequod’s first mate, who was quite likely named after real-life nineteenth-century whaler Valentine Starbuck. I’m not sure they would have gone on to open 16,000 outlets worldwide if they’d stuck with their original suggestion.

Branded – The People Behind the World’s Biggest Brands

Albert Jack books available for download here

Behind the Brands – Selfridges

Selfridges is the high end department store dominating Oxford Street in London and for nearly one hundred years stood alone as the only department store in the world to bear that name, quite a surprise for one of the most instantly recognisable brand names in the world of retailing. Harry Gordon Selfridge was born in Ripon, Wisconsin on 11 January 1864 just months before his mother took him to live in Jackson, Michigan after his father had failed to return home from the American Civil War, despite being honourably discharged instead of dead. After a private education the young Selfridge moved to Chicago, securing employment with Field, Leiter and Company (a retailer that was later to become Macys), There he set about a twenty five year journey up the commercial ladder, amassing some considerable wealth of his own along the way. During this time it was Selfridge who coined the advertising phrases ‘Only ‘X’ More Shopping Days Until Christmas,’ and ‘the customer is always right,’ both of which are still used by just about everybody today.

In 1906 Selfridge decided to take some money, and his wife, to London were he was appalled by the existing department stores and their old fashioned sales methods and displays. Within weeks he had decided to invest four hundred thousand pounds, a considerable sum, in a piece of land at the unfashionable end of Oxford Street. There he built a brand new custom designed department store which opened under his own name on March 15th 1909. Always aware of the importance of customer services Selfridge trained is staff to assist customers and not sell to them, provided facilities for French, German, Italian and American visitors and persuaded the newly formed telephone company to give his store the privileged telephone number, London 1. He was also displayed a flair for marketing and after Louis Bleriot’s 1909 cross-channel flight Selfridge displayed the French aviator’s monoplane in his store, attracting twelve thousand visitors. And in 1925 the flamboyant retailer persuaded John Logie Baird to publicly demonstrate his new television, for the first time, at his premises.

Everything had been running smoothly for the entrepreneur and his fortune grew considerably until, in 1918, his wife Rosalie died during the influenza pandemic of that year, the brutal Spanish Flu. It was then, at the age of forty-four and rich beyond measure that Selfridge, a normally quiet and reserved man, found himself on the London society scene enjoying liaisons and affairs with the likes of Syne Barnado Wellcome and the Hungarian Dolly Sisters, a pair of teenage dancers who enjoyed particular notoriety on the Vaudeville circuit.

The Dolly Sisters made half a dozen films between 1913 and 1920 and were fabulously lucky gamblers, once winning nearly one million dollars in a single evening at a Paris casino. Soon they and H.Gordon Selfridge were lovers and their long downhill journey began. Eventually Jenny was involved in a serious car accident in 1933 and having failed to fully recover took her own life in 1941. Although her sister attempted to follow suit she failed and lived in poverty until her heart finally gave way 1970.

Meanwhile Gordon Selfridge had seen his considerable fortune dwindle away as a result of both his recklessness, during his later years, and The Great Depression that ruined many businessmen of the 1920’s. His increasingly erratic behaviour continued when he retired, in 1941, to spend his days travelling around London on a bus before dying, virtually a pauper, in a flat in Putney, south west London. But his reputation remains large, the character complex and his name will live on, possibly forever, on the busiest shopping street in the world.

Branded – The People Behind the World’s Biggest Brands

by Albert Jack

is due for release on August 12th 2015

Albert Jack books available for download here


Gillette – The King of Razors

King C Gillette was a creative entrepreneur and from the age of seventeen he dreamed of becoming an inventor and making his fortune. But there is quite a long way between dreaming of something and then actually inventing a brand new product. He was born in 1865 and Gillette’s parents, both successful inventors themselves, then moved the family to Chicago where their business was devastated in 1871 during the Great Chicago Fire.  For the next thirteen years Gillette struggled to make a living from his inventions and, in the end, managed to fail miserably. Eventually he found work as a salesman although enjoyed little success and he finally returned to his parent’s house at the age of forty-years-old, unable to pay his bills and with little future to look forward to. But Gillette refused to give up and went to work for William Painter, a local entrepreneur who had invented a disposable bottle cap which he had turned into a successful business. In 1892 Painter had been awarded a U.S. Patent for his product, formed the Crown Cork and Seal Company and employed King Gillette to walk the streets of Baltimore and selling bottle tops from door to door.

One day, whilst out on his rounds, Painter joined Gillette and explained that the secret to a successful product was to invent something people would use once and then throw away. For Painter, the cork sealed bottle top had proved to be the perfect product. Gillette then decided he needed one of his own. The following weeks turned into months and Gillette spent every waking moment trying to think of a product currently used by everybody that he could make disposable. One morning Gillette was shaving at his basin when he cut his face with his old, blunt cut-throat razor and as his blood dripped into the bowl his search for an invention was over. He realised there and then that instead of every man sharpening an old straight bladed razor on a leather strap every morning, he would design thin, sharp blades that were so cheap to produce they could be thrown away after only a few shaves. That morning he left a note for his wife reading ‘I’ve got it, our fortune is made.’

Gillette then spent all of his spare time trying to find a way to manufacture blades out of thin steel that was strong enough not to bend or buckle, without success. Eventually Gillette, tired of his friends and associates joking with him about his failure in creating a new and modern safety razor, turned to Steven Porter, a machinist from Boston, who eventually thought up a way of sandwiching a thin, sharp blade between two stronger pieces of steel leaving only the sharp leading edge exposed, whilst he was eating a sandwich. In the summer of 1899 Gillette became the first man to shave with a disposable bladed razor. But public opinion was firmly against him as, historically, a man’s razor was considered to be a once off purchase for life. Often razors were handed down from grandfather to grandson and the idea of throwing one away after only a few shaves seemed alien to the general public. Financing a marketing and advertising campaign was also out of the question as Gillette himself was broke and potential investors were sceptical.

However, William Emery Nickerson, an expert machine inventor, took a look at the razor and realised that if he made the blade removable, by adding a screw fix device, then only the thin, cheap blade needed to be thrown away and not the whole razor. Gillette immediately filed for a patent and formed the American Safety Razor Company in partnership with Nickerson and two investors. The name of the company was soon changed to the Gillette Safety Razor Company and when early prototypes impressed investors Gillette was offered $125,000 in exchange for fifty-one percent of the company by a group of New York investors. The first advertisement for the Gillette Safety Razor appeared in the System Magazine in early 1903 offering one razor and twenty blades for $5, which was around half the average man’s weekly wage at the time. Needless to say sales were slow and by the end of that year only fifty-one razors had been sold by mail order. Gillette remained a salesman for the Crown Cork and Seal Company and was quoted later as saying ‘The razor was looked upon as a joke by all of my friends. If I had been technically trained then I would have quit there and then.’

But the other investors remained positive and, despite nobody having drawn a salary from the new company, they decided to reduce the number of blades offered with the razor from twenty down to twelve. With that Gillette resigned and travelled to England but when he heard that his partners were planning to sell his patent to a European Company he raced back to Boston and convinced his allies to allow him to regain control of the company. With new investment and renewed enthusiasm Gillette embarked on an advertising campaign that led to sales, in 1904, of 90,884 razors and 123,648 blades. By 1908 the company had established factories in Germany, France, Britain and Canada and had sales exceeding 450,000 units and 70million blades. As the First World War broke out Gillette read that French and British troops needed to remain clean shaven in the trenches so that their gas masks would seal properly. When America entered the war Gillette offered the American Government razor sets for every soldier at cost price and received an order for 3.5million Gillette Safety Razor Kits.

This firmly established the reputation of the company and ensured a generation of men’s loyalty to its products. By then Gillette had become a multi-millionaire and all but retired from the company bearing his famous name. But, unfortunately, he invested most of his money in property and on Wall Street and lost the bulk of it during the infamous Stock Market Crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression. Sadly, the man whose company would be sold in 2005 for $57 Billion died alone, a virtual bankrupt.

Albert Jack books available for download here

 They Laughed at Galileo is released on May 7th, 2015  US Here  &  UK Here

They Laughed at Galileo F

Albert Jack Bibliography


Forget Debt in 90 Minutes – (2002) London: Management Books 2000 Ltd. ISBN
The Jam: Sounds From the Street – (2003) London: Reynolds and Hearn. ISBN
Red Herrings and White Elephants – (2004) London: Metro Books.  ISBN 978-1843581291
Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep – (2005 ) London: Penguin Books. ISBN978-0140515732
Red Herrings and White Elephants (2005) New York: Random House. ISBN978-0060843373
Red Herrings and White Elephants (2005) Tokyo: ISBN-13: 978-1843581536
That’s Bollocks (2006) London: Penguin Books ISBN 978-0140515749
Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep PB (2006) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-141-02425-9
Ten Minute Mysteries (2007) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-140-51590-9
That’s Bollocks PB (2007) London: Penguin Books ISBN 976-0-141-02426-4
Rumeurs; Legendes et Mythes – (2007) Paris: Hatchette Pratique. ISBN 9782012373372
Red Herrings and White Elephants PB – (2007) London: Metro Books.  ISBN 978-1-84454-461-5
Red Herrings and White Elephants (2007) Korea: International Scripts LTD. ISBN unknown
Pop Goes the Weasel (2008) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1-846-14144-7
Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep PB (2008) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-141-03956-5
Loch Ness Monsters PB (2008) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-141-03781-3
Phantom Hitchhikers PB (2008) London: Penguin Books. ISBN  978-0-141-03851-3
Loch Ness Monsters (2009) New York: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0812980059
The Old Dog and Duck (2009) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1-846-14253-6
Pop Goes the Weasel
(2009) New York: Penguin Books USA. ISBN 978-0399535550
Pop Goes the Weasel PB (2010) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-141-03098-2
Black Sheep and Lame Ducks (2010) New York. Penguin Books USA. ISBN 10: 0399535128
What Caesar did for my Salad (2010) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-1846142543
What Caesar did for my Salad (2011) New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0399536908
The Old Dog and Duck PB (2011) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0141043432
It’s a Wonderful Word (2011) London: Random House. ISBN 978-1847946690
Phantom Hitchhikers Part One (2011) Peking: Yilin Press. ISBN 978-7-5447-2098-4
What Caesar did for my Salad (2012) London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14104-344-9
It’s a Wonderful Word (2012) London: Random House. ISBN 978-0-099-56232-0
Phantom Hitchhikers Part Two (2012) Peking: Yilin Press. ISBN-10: 0399161538
Phantom Hitchhikers and other Urban Legends (2012) New York: Penguin Books USA. ISBN-10: 0399161538
Money for Old Rope (2012) Kindle Edition. August 2012. ASIN: B011C4DTXW
Money for Old Rope Part Two (2012) Kindle Edition. October 2012. ASIN: B011A9060S
The Jam: Sounds from the Street (2012) Kindle Edition. October 2012. ASIN: B0091GIBY6
Last Man in London (2014) ISBN-10: 1494358433
Rose Versus Thistle (2014) ASIN: B00KQO2F3A
They Laughed at Galileo (2015) London: Constable & Robinson. ISBN-10: 147211664X
They Laughed at Galileo (2015) New York: Skyhorse Press. ISBN-10: 1629147583
The Greatest Generation (2015) ASIN: B0119RSZ4U
Debt Freedom Program (2015) ASIN: B0119RSN6K
Want To Be A Writer? (2015) ASIN: B011A8AJH4

 Albert Jack books available for download here