Walter Hunt was born in the state of New York in 1796. He had 11 siblings and was educated in a one-room classroom. At the age of 21, he graduated from college with a master’s degree in masonry.
Walter was one of the nation’s top inventors, and some of those inventions are still in use today. His first invention was motivated by watching a carriage run over a child. Carriages had no warning devices at the time, and he developed a foot pedal-activated bell. He patented his device and sold it to the manufacturers of horse-drawn vehicles.
Walter went on to invent other products. He would generally patent his inventions and sell the rights to others, often at a price much less than their value. One of his inventions was the sewing machine. For this invention, he did not initially pursue a patent because he was worried about the job’s impact on seamstresses. When he did pursue a patent, he was denied because his paperwork was deficient. A rival inventor was awarded the patent.
His best-known patent was the safety pin. His invention is basically the same as the safety pins in use today. When Walter was confronted by his draftsman for money that he owed, he nervously twisted a brass wire he was holding. Without realizing it, he had created a pin that could be used to join materials but could also be made safe when not in use.
Some of his other inventions included a rotary street sweeper, ice plows, mail sorters, suction cup shoes, and the fountain pen. He rarely made any money on these. Walter was unique as an inventor because his inventions covered a broad range of applications.
Those who create often do so out of a passion for the ideas that come to them. For Walter, money was obviously not the motivator. What began as the trauma of seeing a child being killed unleashed a lifetime of innovations.
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“Invention breeds invention.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson