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John May is a generalist. A lifelong free-lance author, editor, producer and writer, he has worked on 15 books and written for many major newspapers and magazines. He is a published poet, a semi-professional musician and songwriter, a part-time painter and a dedicated photographer.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


The paper clip must be one of the simplest and most ingenious of all inventions. Legend has it that New Yorker Walter Hunt, a prolific inventor and mechanic, was fiddling around with a piece of wire whilst trying to think of something that could help him pay off a $15 debt. He made his first safety pin out of a piece of brass wire about eight inches long, coiled at the centre and shielded at one end. He went on to patent it on April 10, 1849 as a ‘dress pin’ but later sold the rights to it for $400.

Hunt came up with his first invention - a flax spinner - when he was in his late teens He also invented: a fire engine gong, a forest saw, paper collars, a knife sharpener, a streetcar bell, a hard-coal- burning stove, artificial stone, road sweeping machinery, velocipedes, ice ploughs and mail making machinery. None of them, it seems, achieved significant commercial success as Hunt had problems marketing them effectively.

In 1834, he built America's first sewing machine - the first to employ an eye-pointed needle. He lost interest in patenting it because he believed the invention would cause unemployment amongst seamstresses.

Today In Science History

See Hunt's original patent here

According to Wikipedia: The origin of the safety pin dates back to the Mycenaeans c.1050 B.C. They were known as "Fibulae". It is also possible that it was invented by the iron age Hallstatt culture who lived in what is modern day Austria.

Accordimg to the website Find A Grave: Walter Hunt was born on July 29th 1796 and died on June 8th 1859. He is buried in Green-wood Cemetry,
Brooklyn, Kings County, New York, USA. There is a portrait of him on this site and pictures of an ornate tombstone and an obelix, both erected in his memory.

The website claims that Walter Hunt died of gangrene, from an unattended pin-prick at the age of 63.


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