This Day In History: April 10

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On April 10, 1849, Walter Hunt—a mechanic and independent inventor from New York—patents his metal invention with a spring called the safety pin. Although later businessmen would make a fortune selling the ubiquitous devices, Hunt sells rights to it for just $400 and never earns anything else.

Born on July 29, 1796, in Martinsburg, New York, Hunt came up with the idea when he owed someone a $15 debt, and he scrambled to invent something that would earn him some money. He twisted a piece of metal wire and turned it into what he called a “dress pin,” which had a spring at one end that forced the other end into a clasp. Hunt’s invention wasn’t completely new, as ancient Romans used something similar for jewelry; his was an improvement. Another version of a safety pin came out in 1842, but it had no spring, unlike the pins we know today. Hunt’s invention, which got U.S. Patent No. 6,281, has countless everyday uses, including fastening clothing and diapers.

Hunt achieved moderate success in life and invented many items, including a repeating rifle, a flax spinner, a fountain pen, a knife sharpener, an ice plough and one of the world’s first sewing machines with an eye-pointed needle; Hunt’s sewing machine triggered a patent dispute with another inventor, Elias Howe. Hunt died on June 8, 1859, at age 63.

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