Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Brief History of the Safety Pin

This pretty little gold safety pin was holding the price tag onto something I had bought for a xmas present. As I took it off, I began remembering when a lowly little safety pin could stand between me and being made fun of. Before having your bra straps showing became a fashion statement, it was considered an embarrassment. (i.e. when I was in high school)
There never seemed to be an abundance of safety pins in our home. Therefore you kept track of them. I learned to keep one in my purse or pencil case at school. You never knew when a bra strap might break or a button would pop off.
Every once in awhile someone else needed a safety pin and would ask if I had one and "Could I borrow it?" I would loan it with the stipulation the borrower had to bring it back to me the next day. If she didn't, I would ask her for it. If I never got it back, it was the last time I would loan anything to that person.
Pretty harsh rules over something so inconsequential, huh? Thank my Mom and my teacher, Mrs. Kimball for that. I was raised that if you borrowed something, you returned it - no matter how small.

Safety pins came in all sizes. For us to have a new card of pins was a big deal. Even straight pins were not plentiful. I remember Mom laying table knives on patterns to hold them down on the material when she didn't have enough pins to pin the pattern down.
If Dad got a new shirt, it was carefully unpinned and the shiny new straight pins went into the tomato shaped pin cushion.

Walter Hunt (1796-1859) is credited with inventing the modern safety pin as well as a whole lot of other things including a sewing machine.
On April 10, 1849, Hunt received US patent #6281 for his safety pin pictured here. His was the first to be coiled into a spring at one end with a separate clasp and point at the other end. He sold his patent for $400.

When I was ten years old and my baby brother came along, I got a lot of experience with safety pins. It took the largest ones we had to go through the thick layers of cloth diapers. I learned to keep my fingers between the cloth and the baby so if anything got stuck it was my fingers and not the baby's tender skin.
Mom watched carefully until she was certain I knew the correct way to pin the diaper - all the time telling me about some relation whose baby kept crying and crying until they realized the diaper pin had gone through his skin. That wasn't going to happen to our baby!
Nine years later, I had my own baby to diaper. I thought these diaper pins with the plastic heads were a great improvement over the plain ones we had for my little brother.

Now safety pins are so cheap and plentiful they are even used to craft jewelry and decorate clothing. I've even seen a safety pin AS jewelry in the pierced ears of young people.
I wonder sometimes if there will ever again be a time when something as little as a safety pin will be prized. Will children be taught the importance of returning a borrowed item? Will it matter?

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