Little Bits of History

Safety First

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 10, 2014
Safety pin patent

Safety pin patent

April 10, 1849: Patent # 6,281 is issued to Walter Hunt. This was the first US patent for a safety pin. Hunt was short of funds and needed cash to pay off a $15 debt to a friend. So he designed and then made a model, and sold the patent rights to WR Grace and Company for $400, or nearly $11,000 today. Hunt paid off his debt and kept the rest of the money for himself. This sounds like a good deal until one realizes that Grace and Company made millions off the invention. Hunt used a brass wire about eight inches long. His pin held a coil in the middle to work as a spring and a clasp at the end covered the point and kept the pin from opening. Charles Rowely patented a different safety pin in Great Britain on October 12, 1849.

One of the places the safety pin was used relative early was to keep a baby’s diaper in place. Diaper originally referred to the cloth which had diamond shapes in it. It was only after this type of cloth was used to make diapers that it came to mean the article itself rather than the cloth. The first diapers were made from several layers of fabric cut into a diamond shape and held in place probably by tying. Then came the safety pin and it was possible to snuggly wrap a baby’s bottom to keep the baby, the mother, and the furniture in shape.

Early diapering was a much more haphazard affair and some diapers would be left on for days. Often, the cloth was not washed, but merely dried before reapplying to the child. There was an abundance of diaper rashes with this method. It was eventually learned that it wasn’t the cloth diaper causing the problem, but rather the infrequent changes and the practice of not cleaning the material before reapplying. With this knowledge, it became popular to boil the cloth in between uses and the diaper rashes cleared up. Even with the advent of safety pins to keep the diaper in place, it was possible for the point to disengage from the cover and poke the innocent baby. An improvement was added and the pin’s top was made so the point was locked inside.

Another use for the safety pin is as a fashion accessory. There is some debate over who started the use of placing pins in clothing as a statement but both Richard Hell and Johnny Rotten are named as possible suspects. Rotten claimed that the pins were originally used for a more practical purpose, to keep clothing intact to some measure during a performance. Whatever the origins, punk rock enthusiasts were soon sporting safety pins arranged in clothing and also as piercings.

I see that the fashion wears out more apparel than the man. – William Shakespeare

Fashion fades, only style remains the same. – Coco Chanel

Everything in the universe has a purpose. Indeed, the invisible intelligence that flows through everything in a purposeful fashion is also flowing through you. – Wayne Dyer

Silence is the element in which great things fashion themselves together. – Thomas Carlyle

Also on this day: It’s Not Over ‘Til the Fat Lady Sings – In 1918, Jørn Utzon is born.
ASPCA Formed – In 1866, our animals friends received a voice.
Deadliest Volcano – In 1815, Mount Tambora began to erupt.
Fore – In 1916, the PGA was formed.

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3 Responses

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  1. tkmorin said, on April 10, 2014 at 10:10 am

    Very interesting! Thank you. 🙂


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