A Brief History of the Safety Pin!

by, Jo Carol Hebert

Who Invented the Modern Safety Pin?

  • Thomas Alva Edison?
  • Alexander Graham Bell?
  • Walter Hunt?

Can you recognize the three Inventors listed above?

Thomas A. Edison invented the first practical Electric Light Bulb. Alexander Graham Bell invented the Telephone. But have you heard of Walter Hunt? He was the man who invented the modern, common, little, handy-dandy, everyday, perfect fastening device called the Safety Pin.

“Have you ever used a ‘safety pin’? What did you fasten together?”

Prehistoric ‘Pins’ – Ouch! and Oops!

Early people had ‘pins’ to fasten their loincloths or tunics together. But these pins, made from thorns, splinters of wood, or fish bones – poked, pierced, and stabbed into the skin. Or, they would fall out, leaving the person ‘clothing challenged’.

Consider the ‘pin’ of those clever people of the Roman Empire (approximately the first 500 years AD; we are in the year 2022 AD). They developed the fibula (decorative pins). These  pins, also called ‘brooches’ were shaped like a letter ‘U – with a shield at one end of the arm. The other arm was pointed with a coil at the bend. This design provided tension to press the point into the shield and hold the pin closed -most of the time

But, by Victorian times, (1837 AD-1901 AD), the fibula type of fastening was being replaced by innovative buttons, laces, snaps and hooks.

Age of Invention in the 19th Century (1800’s)

Fortunately, Thomas Woodward invented an improved ‘safety’ pin for baby diapers. Unfortunately, it fastened according to the bulk of the material and the pin could bend or break.

Fortunately, Walter Hunt, a New York Inventor, devised and patented the perfect safety pin. Since ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, the pin was created to pay a debt of $15 (today’s equivalent would be $422).  Walter Hunt owed a draftsman for professional  illustrations of his many other inventions to register them for patent rights of ownership.

Knowing Hunt to be an inventive genius, the draftsman made a challenging proposal:  He asked Hunt to give him the rights to whatever device he could invent using a metal piece of wire. In return, the debt would be forgiven and Hunt would receive a one-time payment of $400. Hunt never received another penny from the commercial sales of the ‘Safety Pin’.

A Debt, a Piece of Wire, and an Idea!

After three hours of envisioning possibilities and twisting a length of malleable (easy to bend) wire, Hunt had created the classic safety pin. His lasting design included a springy coil hinge at the bend that allowed the user to manually press the other sharp end up into a protective clasp that secured the pin’s sharp point.

“This design could be used without danger of the device becoming bent or wounding the fingers.” W. Hunt, U.S. Patent #6,281 on April 10, 1849.

Let’s Meet Walter Hunt

Walter Hunt was a Mechanic, a Mason (stone builder), a Farmer, and an Inventor. He was born in upstate New York in the summer of 1796. He lived his life and died there in the summer of 1859. He was the first of thirteen children and he married and fathered four children.

Walter Hunt, the Inventor and Humanitarian

Hunt was one of the first to create a workable eye-pointed-needle sewing machine. But again, he did not pursue the commercial success of this idea. His daughter was concerned that a ‘sewing machine’ would put the seamstresses of the day out of business. The idea was developed by another Inventor, Elias Howe, who achieved fame and fortune.

He received many other patents which he sold outright and never profited from future sales: artificial stone, an ice plow, an early bicycle, a foot-operated metal gong for horse carriages, a flax spinner, and a rope-making machine.

He was inducted into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2006 There, he received honor and recognition for his valuable contributions to make life better for the common man.

Got Math?

Fact:  Walter Hunt was born in the year 1796. He died in the year 1859.

How old was he when he invented the ‘safety pin’ in 1849? (1849 – 1796 = ?)

How old was he when he died in 1859? (1859 – 1796 = ?)

How long did he live after he invented the ‘safety pin’ in 1849? (1859 – 1849 = ?)

If you found the story of the safety pin interesting, then you will love to read the next Smarty Pants Magazine for Kids: Useful Inventions – the Paper Clip!

You can buy craft wire for twisting and designing your own ‘wire sculpture’ invention.

Categories: Useful Inventions

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