We often overlook the little things that make daily life possible. Between the many commitments we juggle on a regular basis, it can be easy to miss the very things helping us stay prepared for any situation.
Though small and unassuming, the inventions of two National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductees should not be taken for granted. The devices we see as ordinary today did not always exist, and their introduction to the mainstream has carried them into the homes of people everywhere. The next time you come across one of these everyday inventions, take a moment to remember the inventors who brought them to life.
Walter Hunt – The Safety Pin
In the mid-19th century, a masonry worker was twisting a piece of wire while worrying about a $15 debt (the equivalent of $500 today). In that moment, NIHF Inductee Walter Hunt would create one of the most well-known and often-used household items to exist: the safety pin.
Hunt was a lifelong inventor, creating practical tools and improving domestic gadgets whenever he had the chance. He even created one of the first sewing machines, but he didn’t patent it out of fear that it would put seamstresses out of work. When he found himself owing the $15 debt in 1849, he began working tirelessly to conceive of an invention that would help him repay the amount. As he twisted the piece of metal wire into a loop, he added a clasp to one end to create a secure, protective case around the needle’s point.
Hunt soon patented his “dress pin” before selling its rights for $400. Though he made enough to pay off his debt, he would never profit from the multitude of uses his invention would have, including as a fastener for clothing, as a jewelry item and within first aid kits.
Earle Dickson – BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages
While Hunt’s safety pin has a number of uses in medical emergency kits, one of the most commonly found first aid objects is the bandage.
When NIHF Inductee Earle Dickson married Josephine Frances Knight in 1917, he noticed that she faced a recurring problem: getting small cuts while working around the home. Dickson felt that the larger bandages of the time were too bulky for a small abrasion and decided he would try attaching small pieces of sterile gauze to the center of surgical tape strips.
Dickson was working at Johnson & Johnson when he began experimenting with the smaller bandages and decided to bring his idea to management. In 1921, he created a prototype of cotton gauze and adhesive strips covered with crinoline that could be peeled off to expose the adhesive, allowing the gauze and strip to be wrapped over a cut. Within a year, the company brought the product to market. The first commercial BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages were 18 inches long and 2.5 inches wide, with a center inch-wide strip of gauze and could be cut into smaller pieces. Improvements to the design included a manufacturing apparatus that produced individual bandages in smaller, more practical sizes.
Sales for the new bandages didn’t take off until the company distributed a large supply of free BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages to Boy Scout troops across the country. Today, they can be found in a variety of shapes, patterns and colors, all suited to personal preference. It’s estimated that more than 100 billion BAND-AID® Brand Adhesive Bandages have been produced since Dickson first introduced them nearly a century ago.
Learn More About Our Inductees
More information about the fascinating lives of NIHF Inductees and their groundbreaking inventions can be found on our website and blog. To see how NIHF honors invention throughout the year, check out our Twitter, Instagram and Facebook page.