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Biography and History

Walter Hunt

Inventing for Pin Money

One day in 1849, mechanic and amateur inventor Walter Hunt (1796-1859) sat at his desk twisting a piece of brass wire around in his fingers. He was trying to come up with an idea that he could sell to pay off a $15 debt. He eventually twisted the wire into loop with a point on one end and a clasp on the other, and the humble safety pin was born. Hunt received a patent for what he called "a new and useful improvement in the make or form of dress-pins." He later sold the patent for $400. 

Walter Hunt -- The inventer of the safety pin
Hunt was a prolific inventor who patented over 100 inventions including; a fountain pen, repeating rifle, rifle cartridge, a flax spinner, knife sharpener, a restaurant steam table, streetcar bell, coal-burning stove, artificial stone, road sweeping machinery, velocipedes (an early bicycle), ice plough, a tree cutting saw, an ice-breaker, inkstand and a shoe heel.

In 1834, he invented a sewing machine, but he didn't patent it because he was afraid that it would put seamstresses out of work. 20 years later, Elias Howe invented a sewing machine with a similar design and got the patent. He became a millionaire after a patent battle with Isaac Singer was settled in his favor. Singer argued that since Hunt had invented it first Howe's patent was not valid, but the court sided with Howe.

Hunt never cashed in on any of his inventions. He just enjoyed tinkering and inventing, and always sold his patents quickly and for very little money.

images of safety pin from Walter Hunt's original patent

Safety pins have since come full circle. Though still used to fasten fabric, they are also an article of jewelry once again"only now young people sometimes insert them into their ears and cheeks.


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