He Invented Safety Pins and the Repeating Rifle, Here’s Why You’ve Never Heard of Him

By James Owen

When you think back to some of the most famous inventors of all time, who do you think of? Maybe it’s Gutenberg, with the invention of the printing press, or Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, whom pushed the envelope for creating better, more user-friendly personal computers.

One name that may not come to mind however, is the inventor by the name of Walter Hunt. Although not well-known, Hunt proved to be one of the most creative inventors of his time, and to be quite frank, ever.

Hunt was always in need of funds as a means for supplying his family with food, and would begin to take its toll

Walter’s humble beginnings

Walter Hunt (July 29, 1796 to June 8, 1859) was brought up on a small farm located in Lewis County New York. After beginning his formal education, Hunt shortly dropped these endeavors, where he then took up farming. Despite these humble beginnings, the farm life would not prove to be enough to suppress the ever-active mind of Mr. Walter Hunt.

Perhaps the first time in which Hunt’s mind was sparked by the motivation to innovate came when he started working in a textile mill. While there, Hunt would work to improve the existing flax spinning machine, which would later be patented. This patent however, did not include Hunt’s name, which almost served as a foreshadowing for the rest of his humble yet inventive life.

The spinning machine

Walter’s first inventions

In 1826, Walter Hunt took it upon himself to create an even more efficient spinning machine, of which he was eventually able to patent. Around this time, the inventor married his long-time sweetheart, which came at around the time when Hunt was on the search for investors for his improved flax spinning machine.

When he wasn’t able to secure any investments (some say this was the cause of his lack of formal education), Walter and his newfound family moved from their roots to New York with funds obtained after Hunt sold his first patent.

Walter Hunt

Soon after Hunt made the move, he was able to secure yet another patent the following year. The invention consisted of a foot-operated gong, a response to a time in which Hunt witnessed a small girl being hit by a horse-drawn carriage.

The invention was brought about as a safer way to alert pedestrians and other carriages on the road, in that the conventional air horn of the time required drivers to take one hand off of the reigns. As indicated by his earlier patent, Hunt again sold this patent as a way to provide for his growing family (all said and done, Hunt and his wife would have four children).

This proved to be vicious cycle, as Hunt was always in need of funds as a means for supplying his family with food, and would begin to take its toll as Walter again and again strived for investments with little to no luck.

Credit: Haragayato via Wikipedia Commons

The safety pin

Years later, as a way to pay a $15 debt (a little over $400 today) to a draftsmen by the name of J.R Chapin, Hunt created an all-the-more cost effective safety pin. This was thanks to its simple design that utilized only one piece of wire, as well as a tiny spring to allow for secure clasping. Hunt went on to sell this patent for nearly $400 (around $11,000 today).

It’s important to note that Walter Hunt was responsible for a plethora of inventions in his lifetime, with only a small amount being mentioned here. This being said, Walter was also noted as filing and obtaining a patent for the “volitional repeater” in 1849, an invention that got Hunt’s foot in the door of the arms industry.

Repeating rifle

The technology made use of previous ideas, and would later be sold to an entrepreneur by the name of George Arrowsmith. Although groundbreaking for its time, the design did prove to have its faults. This would serve as a springboard for further innovation, as the patent was later taken on by the Robins and Lawrence Arms Company, with the team consisting of Benjamin Tyler Henry, Horace Smith, and Daniel B. Wesson. Ultimately, members of the group would then form the well-known arms company, Smith and Wesson.

A forgotten legacy

On June 8th, in the year of 1859, Walter Hunt passed away. He left behind him years of innovations, of which are still used today. Other notable inventions included an innovative saw, portable knife sharpener, efficient oil lamp as well as an all-in-one fountain pen. This humble man, much like the aforementioned Gutenberg, Gates, and Jobs, was a man that would not stop at mediocre. Such served as the recurring theme of his entire life. Although many haven’t heard of this amazing inventor, he will go down as one of the most prolific inventors of all time.

About the Author

James Owen

James Owen is a writer and graphic designer (specializing in logo design). His primary work has included travel blog writing. In addition, James has worked on various engineering-related proposals and research, and is a mechanical engineering student. James has a passion for rock climbing, hiking, cliff jumping, dirt-biking, video production, technology, world travel, and music.

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