Today is International Safety Pin Day. On April 10, 1849, Walter Hunt received a patent for his invention of the safety pin.
Walter Hunt (July 29, 1796 – June 8, 1859) was born in Martinsburg, NY, and earned a degree in masonry.
He worked as a farmer in Lowville, NY, and designed more efficient machinery for local mills that were struggling financially and in danger of having to lay off employees.
His received his first patent, for a flax spinner, in 1826. He moved to New York City soon after to work as a mechanic.
He was a prolific inventor but received little recognition or money. He sold his patents to pay debts.
According to legend, Hunt invented the safety pin because he owed a friend $15.00. If so, his friend must have been very patient. The process of applying for and receiving a patent doesn’t happen overnight.
Hunt’s “dress pin” was designed to spring open and had a clasp covering the point to prevent the injuries that straight pins caused. For this reason, it became known as the safety pin.
Some accounts state that Hunt sought out a businessman named Richardson, who paid Hunt $100.00, with the stipulation that Hunt would apply for the patent and then turn it over to him. Others insist he sold the patent for $400.00 to a company called W.R. Grace.
No matter the origin story, it’s certain that the safety pin made someone millions of dollars and that someone was not Walter Hunt.
Hunt invented many other things, including a fountain pen, knife sharpener, ice boat, nail-making machine, repeating rifle, paper shirt collar and foot-operated streetcar bell. One design he didn’t patent was his sewing machine. Despite years of effort, he was unable to prove the invention was his.
Hunt continued to invent until his death of pneumonia at the age of 62. Although he never became wealthy, he was well-respected in his time. The New York Tribune’s obituary read:
For more than forty years, he has been known as an experiment in the arts. Whether in mechanical movements, chemistry, electricity or metallic compositions, he was always at home: and, probably in all, he has tried more experiments than any other inventor.
Have a happy International Safety Pin Day!