Faster horses

in innovation •  last year

Maybe I've been under a rock for the last five decades, but when I saw this safety pin on a clothing tag, I was flabbergasted. I had never seen such a pin. Someone had tinkered with Walter Hunt's design, patented in April 1849 and pretty much unchanged since then, and made it - better. It felt like someone had taken on the sacred.

Baby pin fastened

Baby pin unfastened

So it got me thinking...

...which as we know is potentially dangerous. However, this time around I think the world is safe from my musings.

Could it be that we accept things are the way they are because that's the best they can be, and we intuitively recognise they are in their optimal state because of their simplicity and elegance? Or is it because nobody has had the inspiration to think differently about the simple things which surround us? And have we not improved them because we are so used to the way they are?

A brief history of the safety pin

Humble beginnings

Ah, Wikipedia, you beauty. Thanks to you I learned that the invention of the safety pin was a "needs must" exercise - that Walter Hunt fellow owed someone $15 and was flat broke himself. He sold his design for $400 to W. R. Grace and Company and paid off the $15 debt, making a handsome profit of $385 in the bargain. Too bad for him, I suppose, the company he sold the design to must have made millions of dollars from the subsequent sale of safety pins. But how was he to know? And could he have possibly realised how ubiquitous his invention would become? And maybe he really needed to repay that debt at the time.

Safety pin as covert social agent

This delightful tribute to the safety pin in the usually pretty highbrow magazine The Atlantic raises it from the simply functional to a way of triggering childhood memories, and captures the times in society when it actually became a symbol of protest. Living in South Africa, I wasn't aware that in late 2016 people in the US began wearing safety pins as a way of expressing their outrage at what was happening post-election. I do remember that safety pins were an essential element in any self-respecting punk rocker's wardrobe, holding pants, t-shirts and body parts together. So safety pins as a means of social expression - really? Yes, really.

Variations on the safety pin over the years

To be charitable, let's call those variations slight. Safety pins have barely changed at all over the centuries. Until this baby pin came along, nobody seems to have really messed with the basic design. Sure, they've produced larger, more decorative pins such as this one I used to have on a kilt I wore as a child.

Kilt pin

Please don't ask why I've kept it all these years. I have no idea, other than it's nifty.

Other changes are more about colour, size (oversized and smaller) and and design material (say brass rather than steel). I always felt special as a child having one of those small brass safety pins. Somehow they felt more sophisticated than regular safety pins. To think they now come in colours, red to boot!

Little Red Safety Pin

Just for fun, I've thrown in the dry cleaner's special. I have no idea why, but they insist on attaching wool to the safety pins they use to attach the label to the clean item of clothing. Like I might miss the pin if it didn't have this bright wool on? It must at least keep someone employed tying the wool on....

Safety Pin with wool

To give you an idea of scale of these pins, I've put them together:

All pins together

And now someone's gone and changed it

Who would mess with safety pin perfection? What inspired them? Why isn't their name in the Wikipedia article along with Hunt's? The elimination of the spring mechanism to create the baby pin is an innovation of note.

Light bulb


Image source


Oh yeah, it also looks like a two-dimensional light bulb. Maybe a light bulb inspired the inventor of the baby pin!

There's more to this change than meets the eye

For the purposes of comparing the two, let's call the baby pin "SimplePin" and the Hunt design "OriginalPin". Here are a couple of thoughts, IMHO, on why SimplePin may be much better than OriginalPin.

  1. Without measuring it, it looks like SimplePin uses about half to three quarters of the metal of a standard safety pin because it doesn't need that length to go into the bend or have as robust a sheath as OriginalPin. Tick on cost and the environment (Natural, Manufactured and Financial Capital) each getting a boost here.

  2. Not only that, but without the need to turn the steel or brass into a spring shape, rather a single bend, it should take less energy to manufacture. The simpler sheath design also should be easier and less energy intensive to manufacture. It might also be faster, but I'm not a manufacturing expert - just thinking logically that if there's less to do it should take less time.

  3. SimplePin serves the same function as OriginalPin, arguably easier for the user as well. Ever tried to do a safety pin up when attaching a banner to your t-shirt just before a race? Admit it - sometimes it's tricky getting that pin to slide into the sheath, particularly if the sheath is a bit compressed from the vagaries of safety pin life, but the spring still has plenty of spring in it. Those suckers fight back, often at the expense of a sensitive fingertip. And I would also argue that the finicky spring and sheath elements attract trouble - how often have you had a piece of what you were trying to pin get stuck in either of those bits? Well, SimplePin just doesn't have as many sticky bits as OriginalPin. No spring, no cry. No sheath, no pain.

For a design that's been around for over two centuries, frankly, it's overcomplicated for the purpose. While a safety pin can live for decades and there's no good reason why they shouldn't live for centuries, let's face it, a single pin probably doesn't work that hard in its individual life. That spring mechanism is more complex to manufacture than the baby pin mechanism. The saving in manufacturing costs over millions of units over decades of production could mean the baby pin might be doing its own bit to take us into the New Energy Economy. I'm not going to touch the idea that maybe we don't need to manufacture any more anyway as there must be billions of them already weighing down the planet and a bit of an effort to collect them worldwide would go a long way. (I can already hear the Swedes diplomatically pointing out that they started recycling theirs decades ago - at least I assume they did, as that country is now a net importer of waste - but we're not all as organised as the Swedes.)

If anyone out there in Steemit Land knows who came up with the baby pin and what inspired them to invent it, please share with the rest of us. They might have just been trying to save some money, or maybe their bending machine was on the fritz and they had to make a plan, but I'm guessing (in what I trust is a pretty educated way) that they've achieved more than just saving money with their simple but fundamental design change. They would have reduced consumption of metals, reduced production energy costs and also improved the user experience. Sounds like a sustainability improvement to me.

Faster horses?

I'm reminded in a backwards way of the kick-in-the-butt non Henry Ford quote (non, because apparently there is no evidence he actually said it on how he came up with the idea for cars in the first place - "If I'd asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." Maybe the baby pin is the equivalent of a faster horse, not a revolutionary shift in moving people around like the invention of the automobile. But it's an improvement nevertheless.

What other "safety pins" and "faster horses" do we have in our lives? Things which are useful, we use all the time and which we've grown used to because they've always been "like this", but maybe could be improved in a way that helps the planet and improves the user experience?

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A long blogpost about safety pins....ahem :) The message you transported is indeed correct. Many people accept status quo in all kind of areas. Its easier to follow and not question then to go an uncomfortable way.

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Indeed, it was long! I was surprised myself at how much one little pin had to say about itself. And you're right about most people just accepting the status quo. I wonder if there's an evolutionary advantage to "going along" - I suppose you're less likely to be burned at the stake and have no chance of passing on your genes if you go with the flow rather than against it 😉

Last year in UK violence became out of control when England voted to leave the European Union and go it alone. Some woman wanted a symbol common, easy to see, you could wear which meant "I'm safe to be with, you can ask me for help."
It's a symbol of "I will stand by you, keep you safe and against standing alone."
The Safety Pin
Great Article as usual @kiligirl, you Rock!

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Goodness, @covey, that's serious. I wonder why they picked the safety pin. Thank you so much for the insight.

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In most of my time living here on this earth, i have only known the quintessential safety pin. The other ones you have shown are new (old?) to me.
Seems i was the one living under the rock.
( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

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Nice face there, @yukimaru 😃. I'm sure you're not living under a rock. Nice to meet you!

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Haha! That is my mischievous face... ;)
Nice to meet you too! More power to you, and i followed you for awesome content.

( ^∇^)

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It sure is mischievous 😉! I like this one too. Thank you for the kind words 😊😊

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That wink though! ;)
Always a pleasure! keep it up! :)

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😊😊

I've never seen a safety pin like that in my life as well
It does look a bit like a lightbulb, but it does certainly have an odd shape compared to the pins we have nowadays.

I understand the great uses of safety pins but if you asked me it is ironic that they are called safety pins since I've been pricked and pierced many times haha

It is pretty amazing how such a simple small, intuitive invention can revolutionise and make many people's lives that little bit easier without many of us even realising and may simple pin will be the future @kiligirl haha! :)

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Ha ha indeed, @arckrai! Geez, the number of times I've pricked my fingers on "safety" pins over the years - you pegged it. Nice to see you here again 😃

I love how you looked at something, decided to research it and then shared it with us. Those are the best finds, aren't they?
That is actually how our Friday Fictioneers Facilitator (say that 10 times fast) comes up with her 100-word stories. She is as brilliant as you are, TFAY.
I have to get down to business and invest more time here like you do!
Bloody life in the way at this time, though.

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Hey, Dale, FFF...F^3... You're right, it's a heckuva challenge to say it 10 times fast. This one started with a conversation in an airport with a friend, after which I realised I wanted to find out more about that bloody pin. So, TFAY, thanks much much for the compliment on my brilliance (if you keep doing that there's a risk I might start believing it) - I've seen your videos and read your blog so I know you can do it. That life thing is majorly pesky where Steemit's concerned, and I just can't seem to do the "post a pic with two words about it" kind of post. I've tried, but you've seen where that got me!

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And that wouldn't be you, anyway (the two-word-pic-thing)

I like to fool myself into believing I'll be more organised one day.

Buahahahahahah!

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Nice article!

It's nice to know that the ubiquitous safety pin has so many historical facts attached to it.

On a lighter note I am reminded of a line from Dorothy Sayers' book in which a liar is described with a reference to the safety pin, "He was so crooked, you could have used his spine for a safety-pin."

I found it very informative. Thanks!

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Great quote, great insult. This reminds me of the famous insult made to Earl Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, by Field Marshall General Templer: "Dickie, you're so crooked that if you swallowed a nail you'd shit a corkscrew".

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😆 😆

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Wow, that's a great quote. She had a sharp pen, that's for sure. Thanks for sharing it!

And I have to thank that baby pin for getting me to question the safety pin - without that I would probably have drifted through life not knowing anything more than how much blood a safety pin can usually get out of the softest part of my fingertip.

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I like poems and happened to read one which had a line with safety pin in it. This excerpt is taken from allpoetry.com(source):

With God, i dont need a safety pin
for Jesus is my glue
to bind together my faults
so his work, i can do".

Good to come back and see genuinely good content being upvoted and appreciated - for a change. Following for more!

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Lovely poem, @ maxabit. Thank you for sharing 😘

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And thank you for the kind words about my content. I really appreciate it. I'm here for the long haul so I like to put effort into what I write, and it makes such a difference to get real comments back instead of copy paste "nice work please follow me" type replies.

My goodness Kiligirl you do have an analytical mind. I swear it never stops. The pin you speak of does remind me why I don't often use them. Stabs and perforations in unwanted places. The latest pin does remind me of a shower curtain hook. Will research that if you need more info! You are a great writer with a keen sense of humor! Enjoyed ! 🐓🐓

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Thank you, my friend, and gee, you're right about the shower hooks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Seems like many of us have scars (in our hearts if not actually on our fingers) from losing battles with so-called safety pins.... 😘😘

amazing you made this interesting enough for me to read it - i will connect so i see more of your blogs - hope you like my art and music too

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Well, thank you so much, @daydreams4rock, I really appreciate your comment. As you can imagine, my friends laughed when I said I was putting together a post about safety pins...but then they thought twice, knowing me :-). I'll check out your stuff :-)

Very big text about very little thing :)

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Haha i didnt even see the irony in this until you pointed it out. Its amazing how things that are so old ans still can be improved upon.

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Brassy steely irony - I never noticed that irony has iron in it 😆

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You noticed 😜

OH my word...I also have a safety pin that I had on a skirt as a young girl and I kept it all these years...how weird is that?

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Ok, I feel slightly less weird now. That's so funny! If there are two of us keeping pins, it can't be weird, right?

I have came across a baby pin (most recent clothing shopping) and my reaction was same as your but in a 100 years I wouldn't think to research the issue.
I thought it was the current trend - quantity over the quality!!!

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You're probably right, @awesome-seven! The thing that surprised me the most is I couldn't find out anything about baby pins, other than the ones on that site appear to retail for $30/1000 pins. I dunno, seems expensive, although I've never bought a safety pin or baby pin in my life.

Will have to take a different tack on research (no more delving into pins, though! I'm good with them now) to make sure I pick up the "real" story in future.

I like the fact that you do a good job before making a blog! Thanks for this information!

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Thank you, @amedeo 😃

Didn't thought I could be so interested in safety pins this morning. This was great. Thank you.

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Well thank you, @renssmit, I appreciate it!

Probably the best analysis ever about safety pins AND innovation :) for sure you either work with innovation or with safety pins!
I also love the "Faster horses" quote, inspirational! Connecting the dots!

By the way, if you love Africa and business, take a look here: https://steemit.com/business/@bitatlas/africa-where-real-entrepreneurs-are

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Probably the ONLY analysis of safety pins! Thank you, @bitatlas, really glad you enjoyed it. I can assure you I don't work with safety pins and my curiosity about them is now well-satisfied. Interesting view on entrepreneurship in Angola. The only African country I've been to which didn't have that kind of economic activity everywhere you look was Guinea Bissau in the mid-2000s. They didn't even have the usual street barbers. There was absolutely no cash in their economy at that time. At the other end of the spectrum - Douala in Cameroon. They even had streetside photocopying services under umbrellas, with several vendors hooked up to generators to provide electricity.

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Oh yes, the photocopying services in Angola are also like that: you can find at least one in every street! It's amazing! And they sell literally everything at the street!
Hope to see more amazing content from you soon dear @kiligirl!

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Thanks, @bitatlas - that is amazing! I'm busy doing my entrepreneuring thing during the day so squeezing out a post most weekdays is like getting to the gym most weekdays...sometimes it just doesn't happen! But it all balances out. Cheers for now!

Pins.. Everywhere! :P Cool post.

I will give you a follow :) Talk again soon!

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What about the Safety Dance?

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Bwahaha, @themadgoat, good one!

I always have a safety pin with me. They are a darn useful invention. Thank you for the lesson on them. I recently looked up the history of popcorn and spent a half hour marveling about how much one can learn about popcorn.

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Amazing how everyday items like safety pins and popcorn have interesting backstories. Any chance of a popcorn post, given all that research? 😉

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Maybe later today :)
I need to shower and do some housework.
Then I will try to do another post. Shall I link it here for you if I get it done?

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I'd love to read it - posting a link here would make sure I see it 😎. Have a great day!

Loved this article... It has givem me some great historical information about pins.😉

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Glad you loved it, @aman.shady - I'm sure that pin info will come in really handy one day 😂. Thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment 😊

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You're welcome.😉😉

Never be ok with the norm. It can always be improved!

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Totally! Somehow, though, I find I don't notice most of what the "norm" is. Seeing that baby pin was an intense reminder that asking "why?" a little more often could lead to betterness.

you have done nice research .. thanks for sharing this post

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Thank you, @akareem!

@kiligirl
The malefice is not terrible when a pin on guards

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Ok, you got me there, @putopelatudo...I've thought and thought about your comment, but now I'll have to ask you what you mean :-)

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It's an old saying in Russia

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Interesting!

That is interesting to know, Thank You!

I have never seen such safety pins

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Thanks - I'm relieved to find out from other Steemians I'm not the only one 😎

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Great Post

very long info

Good research, please follow back thanks @abraham01

Nice article

great post , this is very useful in my country , thank you so much

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So glad this was useful for you 😊

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interesting article))

Hiya ! New friend ! Great post ! While going through the comments, something popped into my mind ! I KNEW I had seen one of those before ... Shower curtain hanger !!! That one is made of brass to prevent rusting and probably very old ...

Or I could be completely wrong, LMAO !!!!

Read More, Reason More ... JTS

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You're right, it does look like a shower curtain hanger! Mine is definitely a safety pin. It's quite small and attached a cardboard label to a piece of clothing or something, can't quite remember. Cheers! 😊😊