Famous Hungarian inventions and discoveries

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Hungarians are a talented bunch and Hungary has been responsible for many important discoveries and inventions over the years.

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While most people are familiar with the Rubik’s cube, you might not be aware that the biro ballpoint pen, telephone exchange and vitamin C, are all the output of great Hungarian minds.

We decided to take a look at all three to find out more.

Vitamin C - Albert Szent-Györgyi

Szent-Györgyi was a medical student at Semmelweis University when he was called away on 1914 to serve as a medic in WWI. Disheartened with war, however, in 1916 he deliberately shot himself in the arm in order to be sent home. In the years that followed he spent stints studying in Bratislava, Holland and England and after graduating, accepted a position at the University of Szeged.

It was here, working with research fellow Joseph Svirbely, that he discovered vitamin C, also known as L-ascorbic acid, a nutrient that is essential for human life and certain other animal species. He would go on to win the 1937 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine and donated all his prize money to the anti-Soviet movement in Finland.

Aside from medicine, Szent-Györgyi was part of the Hungarian resistance movement during WWII and was secretly sent to Cairo to negotiate with the Allies when Hungary was looking for a way out of its involvement with the Axis powers.

After the war, he returned to Budapest and for a short time he was tipped to become the President of Hungary. Instead, he was elected to parliament and re-established the Academy of Sciences. Unhappy with Communist rule, however, in 1947 he emigrated to the US and continued to work in medicine.

László Bíró - Biro ballpoint pen

Born in Budapest, into a Jewish family in 1899, Bíró was working as a journalist when he noticed that newspaper ink dried quickly and never smudged. Seeing the advantage of this, he tried to use the same ink in his fountain pen but found it would not flow correctly due to its viscosity.

Working with his brother, they set about inventing a new tip that utilised a small ball moving freely inside a socket. As the ball rolled it picked up ink from a cartridge and transferred it to paper. He presented the first version of the pen at the Budapest International Fair in 1931.

Eventually, in 1943 the brothers moved to Argentina and filed US Patent 2,390,636 and formed the company Biro Pens of Argentina. One of the first major uses of the pen was by the British Royal Air Force, who found them more reliable at altitude than fountain pens.

It wasn’t until the patent for Bíró’s pen was purchased by Marcel Bich of the Bic company and used to create the ubiquitous Bic Cristal pen which quickly became a part of pop culture. Bíró meanwhile went on to live a long life, eventually passing away in 1985 in Buenos Aires. Argentina’s Inventors Day is named in his honour.

Tivadar Puskás - Telephone exchange

Puskás was born in 1844 in Ditró which is in the Transylvanian region of what is today Romania. After studying law and engineering at university, he had an interesting early career, which saw him work for a railway construction company in England, then found Central Europe’s first travel agency at the Vienna World Exhibition in 1873, before next moving to Colorado to be a gold miner.

It wasn’t until Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone that Puskás dusted off his old plans for a telegraph exchange and worked with Thomas Edison to create the world’s first telephone exchange which was eventually deployed on an experimental by the Bell Telephone Company in Boston in 1877.

Puskás himself set up the first exchange in Paris and worked with his brother Ferenc Puskás to set up another one in Pest. Further inventions included the multiplex exchange and the Telephone News Service that allowed up to half a million people simultaneously listen to news broadcasts from an exchange.

Despite his inventions forming the backbone of modern telecommunication, Puskás died in 1893 having received very little public recognition for his work. However finally in 2008, the Hungarian National Bank minted a 1,000 Forint commemorative coin in his honour.