Coming from a nation which has an overinflated sense of importance based largely on its inventions – television, telephone, penicillin (guess the country) – I thought it would be in the public interest to investigate what Argentina has given the world. It’s much more than just mate, Maradona and meat.
Some people made suggestions that bordered on the ridiculous – football (we all know that’s Scottish) – and others were too controversial and embroiled in mystery to confirm – dulce de leche, although a staple here cannot be safely traced back to Argentine hands – but nonetheless we have managed to compile a list comprising of five local inventions or innovations that have indeed changed the world.
It might be a stretch to call the ballpoint pen an Argentine invention but its creator – Hungarian-born journalist painter and inventor Biró László József (or Ladislao José Biró as he later came to be known) – did spend half his life living in Argentina and is an adopted son. Born in 1899 in Budapest, he relocated across the Atlantic in 1943 just in time to make it big with his invention.
The Ballpoint Pen – Ladislao José Biró
Biró first patented the ballpoint in Hungary after he’d become increasingly frustrated with the inefficiency of fountain pens whose ink dried slowly and needed to be refilled frequently. Inspired by the printing presses in newspapers, he set about designing a pen that could administer ink from a plastic tube with the aid of a small ball. The first attempts failed due to the viscosity of normal ink but with the help of his chemist brother, he found a consistency that worked.
On arrival in his new homeland, he commercialised his invention, setting up the company Biro Meyne Biro and the rest is non-leaking, fast-drying, smooth-applying history. The invention was immediately popular with the British Royal Air Force before going on to global domination.
Needless to say, the successful entrepreneur was accepted into the bosom of Argentine society and, although the ballpoint isn’t strictly a local invention, it is considered one.
‘Inventors Day’ is celebrated every year in Argentina on Biró’s birthday: the 29th of September. His daughter, Mariana, remembers that whenever he was asked what his best invention was, he would always say, “the next one”.
The Animated Film – Quirino Cristiani
When people think of animation, an affable mouse generally springs to mind. But the medium has its origins elsewhere. The first ever animated film was definitely aimed more at adults. ‘El Apóstol’ was a satire about Argentine president Hipólito Yrigoyen, which came out in 1917, years before Disney started bringing cartoon characters to life. “Disney is great but I was the first,” Quirino Cristiani later recalled.
Born in Italy at the end of the 19th century, Cristiani moved to Buenos Aires with his family in 1900. He fed his passion for drawing during a stint at the Academy of Fine Arts before going on to work as a satirical cartoonist in Buenos Aires’ newspapers.
A year after the election of the radical president Yrigoyen, and the success of a short film he had made that pioneered the use of cardboard cut-outs in animation, Crisitiani set about creating the world’s first feature-length animated film, with the widely-ridiculed president as his subject. It premiered on 9th November 1917. Not content with that achievement, he also made the first animated film with sound in 1931.
It is said that Walt Disney, by then a global superstar, offered Cristiani a job in the 1940s, but that Cristiani refused in order to stay in Argentina and work on his own studio.
Tragically, Cristiani’s catalogue of work was lost in a succession of fires and no copies of the world’s first animated films exist.
The Heart Bypass – René Favaloro
Argentina is a country often associated with passions of the heart but one Argentine man captured more than most. René Favaloro, a doctor from La Plata, has saved millions of lives across the globe with his revolutionary surgical procedure: the heart bypass.
A man with humble beginnings, Favaloro rose through the ranks of the Argentine medical system and was invited to work at the prestigious Cleveland Clinic in the United States, where he mastered the art of cardiac surgery. In 1967, supported by a team of world-class doctors, he performed the world’s first bypass surgery. In layman’s terms, the principle of the procedure is to bypass a diseased section of a coronary artery, allowing blood to flow freely around the heart. The procedure continues to saves lives today.
Favaloro’s life after the revolutionary breakthrough was unfortunately overshadowed by disappointment, then tragedy. He returned to his homeland in 1971 with plans to build a medical centre as innovative as the one he had experienced in Cleveland. In 1975 he founded the Fundación Favoloro but it never reached the heights he dreamed of. In 2000, sick of Argentine society and suffering from spiralling debts, he committed suicide by shooting himself through the heart.
The Argentine Dogo, a dog famed for its strength and power, is the result of tireless breeding by Antonio Martínez and, more lately, his brother Augustin.
The Argentine Dogo – Antonio and Agustin Nores Martínez
Antonio set about breeding the Dogo with the vision of creating a dog that was strong and aggressive enough for big game hunting, but docile enough to live peacefully alongside humans. Taking the Cordoba fighting dog as his base, Antonio, a respected surgeon and professor, used selective cross-breeding to give the dog the traits he wanted.
To improve the dog’s smell, he crossed it with Pointers and genes from the Great Dane gave it height while the Bull Terrier was used to create its white coat. Genes from the Dogue de Bordeaux and the English Bulldog were used to improve the strength of its jaw and crossing it with the Boxer apparently added intelligence and good temperament. The last pieces in the exhaustive breeding jigsaw were the Irish Wolfhound and the Pyrenean Mountain Dog which were used for their calm demeanour and strength.
The Argentine dogo was a miraculous feat of breeding but the result was, and still is, controversial. Because of their extreme strength – they are said to be able to kill an animal as large as a wild boar on their own – they are banned in countries across the globe including the UK, Portugal and parts of the United States.
Not content with just the one revolutionary heart-related procedure, Argentines can also be proud of creating the first artificial heart to ever have been used in a human.
The Artificial Heart – Domingo Santo Liotta
Born to Italian parents in Entre Ríos in 1924, Domingo Santo Liotta has studied and taught medicine internationally but is best known for his work with artificial hearts.
Liotta studied the science behind artificial hearts at university in Lyon, before applying the techniques during animal experiments in Argentina in the 60s. He went on to develop partial artificial hearts that he put into practice in surgery, but it wasn’t until the end of the decade that he made the first Total Artificial Heart (TAH).
The main objective was to keep a patient alive using a mechanical heart while he waited for a replacement heart transplant. The first operation to make use of the device took place on 4th April 1969 when a dying man was kept alive with a TAH until they could replace it with another human heart. The original TAH model is still on display at Washington’s Smithsonian museum.