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Pins and Needles

kcohen Cohen
Posted 1/21/21

Our lives are full of many items that most of us see every day but take for granted. Two of these items came to mind when I brought a pair of pants to the tailor for alterations. I am talking about …

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Pins and Needles

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Our lives are full of many items that most of us see every day but take for granted. Two of these items came to mind when I brought a pair of pants to the tailor for alterations. I am talking about the pin family, clothes and safety.

Clothespins and safety pins have been around for a long time. They each have their own purpose. Clothespins were designed to make it easier to hang clothes to dry. During the 1700's wet clothes were hung on bushes, large rocks and draped over windowsills to dry.

Prior to the electronic dryers we use today, freshly washed items were hung on rope or metal lines to dry in the sun. The problem was that the wet items were easily blown away by the wind.

In the early 1800's a patent was granted to a guy named Opdepec. His primitive clothespin was one piece with the prongs close enough together to squeeze clothing material around a line to dry. Made from wood, many users carved their initials in the handle to be able to identify them when neighbors shared a clothesline.

As the public clamored for clothespins, many inventors improved on the design. Pardon the pun but they “sprang into action” by incorporating a spring in a two-piece design that eventually led to the clothespin that we use today.

One of the first companies to manufacture the spring clothespin was the United States Clothespin Company located in Vermont. U.S.C. not to be confused with the university with the Trojan mascot, was eventually outdone by the National Clothespin Company due to an exclusive contract they had with the national chain of F.W. Woolworths.

So, Vermont was where the modern version of our clothespin had its beginning. If the state had acted sooner maybe it could have used the motto “Live Free and Dry” before New Hampshire used their version on a license plate.

Another item associated with clothes is the safety pin. The earliest designs of the safety pin go all the way back to the 13th century B.C. Looking nothing like modern day safety pins, Greek women used a modified brooch to secure their tunics.

They called the brooch a fibula which we now know as a lateral bone in the lower leg. Maybe the whole idea of their fibula was to prevent a woman's tunic from rising thus exposing their lower legs.

If Marilyn Monroe had one attached to her dress, the iconic subway grate scene from “The Seven Year Itch” would never have happened. By the way, the grate still exists in New York City on 6th Avenue near 51st Street.

The person credited to inventing the safety pin was William Hunt. In 1849 Hunt was granted a patent for his design. Hunt took an 8-inch piece of brass wire and made a coil in the middle. One end had a clasp so that the other end could be tucked in preventing any piercing.

Hunt's patent was number 6281. The government assigns patents in order of when they were granted. His followed 6280 for Kentucky Bluegrass and proceeded 6282 that was granted for a hybrid tea rose plant. If you want to play patent roulette, go to any search engine and type in the word patent followed by a random number. But be warned, it can be addicting as you explore all the inventive creations of our society.

Like many inventors, Hunt knew a lot about developing useful items but little about business. He came up with his design to settle a $15 debt to a friend. He sold the patent to W.R. Grace Company for $400.

He paid his friend the $15 and pocketed the remaining $385. W.R. Grace went on to make millions of dollars by selling the safety pin.

So, although Hunt invented the safety pin that prevented accidental piercings, it was W.R. Grace Company that knew how to “stick it to the man.”

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