The Big Book is all about classic design the type where form + function are fused in a symbiotic relationship to make something close to perfection. It’s also about the artisan creatives that gave birth to the ideas, their passion and shear enthusiasm to create.
Enter the humble Safety Pin and it’s inventor Walter Hunt.
The safety pin although seen today as a commonplace item was a revolution of design back in 1849, and still today this day has few challengers. However at the time especially it’s design was considered a break through and solved a problem experienced by many.
Walter Hunt took a 20cm piece of brass wire, made a coil at one end providing a spring action, a catch at the other to hold the pin in place, and hey presto this classic piece of design was complete. Simple, elegant and effective taking, it’s said little more than 3 hours.
Hunt could be described as the archetypal inventor, superbly creative but shocking with money and the making of money. Although he was famous for inventing the Safety Pin he also invented –
- The fountain pen
- Lockstitch sewing machine
- A forerunner to the Winchester repeating rifle
- A flax spinner
- Knife sharpener
- Street car bell
- Hard-coal-burning stove
- Artificial stone
- Nail making machine
- Swivel-Cap Stopper
- Street sweeping machinery
- A velocipede
- Self closing Inkstand
- Ice boat
- and those are just the ones that are known!
But Walter Hunt was a man who created for other reasons than just money, he failed to patent his sewing machine because he was afraid he would put hand sewers and seamstresses out of work. When he invented the Safety Pin though he immediately patented the design stating –
“it is equally ornamental, and at the same time more secure and durable any other plan of a clasp pin heretofore in use, there being no joint to break or pivot to wear or get loose as in other plans”
Hunt was granted the patent on the safety pin in 1849. He decided, that as he owed $15 to a friend he would sell the patent to raise the money immediately, he sold it for $400 (roughly about $12,000 today) to W. R. Grace and Company. Grace went on to make many millions from this humble invention and today has more than 6,400 employees in nearly 40 countries, and annual sales of more than $2.5 billion). Walter Hunt himself repaid the $15 and kept the difference. Hunt lived to the age of 62, only a year before he died Hunt settled a dispute with Isaac Singer. Singer arranged to pay Hunt $50,000 for his sewing machine design in 1858 in order to clear up the patent confusion about sewing machines, but Hunt died in New York in 1859 before Singer was able to make any payments.
None the less Hunt hunts invention of the Safety Pin proves that sometimes, things simply happen quickly and seamlessly. The product of which is an item that will be regarding as a classic piece of design in some circles and just another one of those things we take for granted by the majority of the world.