Saturday April 10, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Safety Pin

On this Day:

In 1849, the safety pin was patented by Walter Hunt (NYC); he subsequently sold the rights for $400.

The safety pin is a variation of the regular pin which includes a simple spring mechanism and a clasp. The clasp serves two purposes: to form a closed loop thereby properly fastening the pin to whatever it is applied to, and to cover the end of the pin to protect the user from the sharp point.

Safety pins are commonly used to fasten pieces of fabric or clothing together. Safety pins, or more usually a special version with an extra safe cover, called a nappy pin, or loincloth pin, are widely used to fasten cloth diapers (nappies), or modern loincloths, as the safety clasp which prevents the baby from being jabbed or pricked. Similarly, they can be used to patch torn or damaged clothing. Safety pins can also be used as an accessory in jewelry, like earrings, chains, and wristbands. Sometimes they are used to attach an embroidered patch. Size 3 is often used in quilting and may be labelled for purchase as a “quilting pin”. Size 4 and larger may be called “blanket pins” and deemed acceptable as kilt pins for informal dress, depending upon design and appearance.

American mechanic Walter Hunt is regarded as the inventor of the safety pin that bears resemblance to those used today. The safety pin included a clasp that covered the point and kept it from opening, and a circular twist at the bend to act as a spring and hold it in place. Charles Rowley (Birmingham, England) independently patented a similar safety pin in October 1849, although the company no longer makes these.

Hunt made the invention in order to pay off a $15 debt to a friend. He used a piece of brass wire that was about 8 inches long and made a coil in the center of the wire so it would open up when released. The clasp at one end was devised in order to shield the sharp edge from the user.

After being issued U.S. patent #6,281 on April 10, 1849, Hunt sold the patent to W. R. Grace and Company for $400 (roughly $12,000 in 2019 dollars). Using that money, Hunt then paid the $15 owed to a friend and kept the remaining amount of $385 for himself. What Hunt failed to realize is that in the years to follow, W.R. Grace and Company would make millions of dollars in profits from his invention.

The laryngologist Dr. Chevalier Jackson devised special instruments for removing swallowed safety pins. Because small children often swallowed them and open pins could be lodged dangerously in their throats, Jackson called them “danger pins” and sometimes displayed arrangements of those he had extracted. Safety pin ingestion is still a common problem in some countries today.

During the emergence of punk rock in the late 1970s, safety pins became associated with the genre, its followers and fashion. Some claim the look was taken originally from Richard Hell whom the British punks saw in pictures, and whose style they adopted. This is disputed by a number of artists from the first wave of British punks, most notably Johnny Rotten, who insists that safety pins were originally incorporated for more practical reasons, for example, to remedy “the arse of your pants falling out”. British punk fans, after seeing the clothing worn by such punk forerunners, then incorporated safety pins into their own wardrobe as clothing decoration or as piercings, shifting the purpose of the pins from practicality to fashion. The safety pin subsequently has become an image associated with punk rock by media and popular culture outlets.

Safety pins worn visibly on clothing became a symbol of solidarity with victims of racist and xenophobic speech and violence after the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom in 2016. Later that year the symbol spread to the United States after Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. Some commentators and activists derided the wearing of safety pins as “slacktivism,” while others argued it was useful when connected with other, more concrete political actions.

Safety pins hold a value in certain cultures and traditions. In India pins are kept over generations and passed down to daughters. Ukrainians use pins as a way to ward off evil spirits when attached to children’s clothing. In other countries a safety pin is a form of good luck (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

Did you hear about the fellow who got a job at the safety pin factory? He hopes he can stick with it.

Second, a Song:

Sheldon Mayer Harnick (born April 30, 1924) is an American lyricist and songwriter best known for his collaborations with composer Jerry Bock on musicals such as Fiddler on the Roof.

Harnick began his career writing words and music to comic songs in musical revues. One of these, “The Merry Minuet”, was popularized by the Kingston Trio. It is in the caustic style usually associated with Tom Lehrer and is sometimes incorrectly attributed to Lehrer.

Sheldon Mayer Harnick also wrote “The Ballad of the Shape of Things” which was also a staple of the Kingston Trio. 

The Kingston Trio is an American folk and pop music group that helped launch the folk revival of the late 1950s to late 1960s. The group started as a San Francisco Bay Area nightclub act with an original lineup of Dave Guard, Bob Shane, and Nick Reynolds. It rose to international popularity fuelled by unprecedented sales of LP records and helped alter the direction of popular music in the U.S.

The Kingston Trio was one of the most prominent groups of the era’s pop-folk boom, which started in 1958 with the release of the Trio’s eponymous first album and its hit recording of “Tom Dooley”, which sold over three million copies as a single. The Trio released nineteen albums that made Billboard’s Top 100, fourteen of which ranked in the top 10, and five of which hit the number 1 spot. Four of the group’s LPs charted among the 10 top-selling albums for five weeks in November and December 1959, a record unmatched for more than 50 years, and the group still ranks in the all-time lists of many of Billboard’s cumulative charts, including those for most weeks with a number 1 album, most total weeks charting an album, most number 1 albums, most consecutive number 1 albums, and most top ten albums.

In 1961, the Trio was described as “the most envied, the most imitated, and the most successful singing group, folk or otherwise, in all show business” and “the undisputed kings of the folksinging rage by every yardstick”. The Trio’s massive record sales in its early days made acoustic folk music commercially viable, paving the way for singer-songwriter, folk rock, and Americana artists who followed in their wake.

The Kingston Trio continues to tour as of 2020 with musicians who licensed the name and trademark in 2017.

The Kingston Trio’s influence on the development of American popular music has been considerable. According to music critic Bruce Eder writing for Allmusic.com:

In the history of popular music, there are a relative handful of performers who have redefined the content of the music at critical points in history—people whose music left the landscape, and definition of popular music, altered completely. The Kingston Trio were one such group, transforming folk music into a hot commodity and creating a demand—where none had existed before—for young men (sometimes with women) strumming acoustic guitars and banjos and singing folk songs and folk-like novelty songs in harmony. On a purely commercial level, from 1957 until 1963, the Kingston Trio were the most vital and popular folk group in the world, and folk music was sufficiently popular as to make that a significant statement. Equally important, the original trio—Dave Guard, Nick Reynolds, and Bob Shane—in tandem with other, similar early acts such as the Limeliters, spearheaded a boom in the popularity of folk music that suddenly made the latter important to millions of listeners who previously had ignored it.

Discussing his earliest musical influences in a 2001 Rolling Stone interview, Bob Dylan remembered:

There were other folk-music records, commercial folk-music records, like those by the Kingston Trio. I never really was an elitist. Personally, I liked the Kingston Trio. I could see the picture…the Kingston Trio were probably the best commercial group going, and they seemed to know what they were doing.

In his autobiography Chronicles, Dylan added: “I liked the Kingston Trio. Even though their style was polished and collegiate, I liked most of their stuff anyway.”

In February 1982, Chicago Tribune writer Eric Zorn praised the Kingston Trio’s impact on the popular music industry, claiming that “for almost five years, they overshadowed all other pop groups in America.” He also noted that they “so changed the course of popular music that their impact is largely felt to this day.”

Jac Holzman, co-founder of the originally folk-based Elektra Records, remarked that his formerly struggling company’s new-found prosperity in the late 1950s resulted from “The Kingston Trio which has the ability to capture the interest of a large number of people who have never been conscious of folk music before. In this respect, the Kingston Trio has put us on the map.” Even some staunch traditionalists from both the urban and rural folk music communities had an affinity for the Kingstons’ polished commercial versions of older songs. In her memoir And A Voice To Sing With, singer and activist Joan Baez recalled that “Traveling across the country with my mother and sisters, we heard the commercial songs of the budding folk boom for the first time, the Kingston Trio’s ‘Tom Dooley’ and ‘Scotch and Soda.’ Before I turned into a snob and learned to look down upon all commercial folk music as bastardized and unholy, I loved the Kingston Trio. When I became one of the leading practitioners of ‘pure folk,’ I still loved them…” Arthel “Doc” Watson of North Carolina, one of the most respected and influential musicians performing traditional music, remarked, “I’ll tell you who pointed all our noses in the right direction, even the traditional performers. They got us interested in trying to put the good stuff out there—the Kingston Trio. They got me interested in it!”

Among the many other artists who cite the Kingston Trio as a formative influence in their musical careers are comedian, actor, and banjo player Steve Martin, Lindsey Buckingham of Fleetwood Mac, singer-songwriter Paul Simon, Timothy B. Schmit of The Eagles, pioneering folk-rock artist Gram Parsons, Stephen Stills and David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, The Beach Boys’ Al Jardine, Big Brother and the Holding Company founding member Peter Albin, Denny Doherty of The Mamas and the Papas, banjo master Tony Trischka, pop groups ABBA and The Bee Gees, Jefferson Airplane founding members Marty Balin and Paul Kantner, Buffalo Springfield founding member Richie Furay, Byrds co-founder Gene Clark, roots musician and master mandolin player David Grisman, singer-songwriters Tom Paxton, Harry Chapin, Jimmy Buffett, Tim Buckley, Steve Goodman, Steve Gillette, Michael Smith (composer of “The Dutchman”), and Shawn Colvin, folk-rock group We Five co-founder Jerry Burgan, folk and rock musician Jerry Yester, rock photographer and Modern Folk Quartet musician Henry Diltz, and progressive jazz vocal group Manhattan Transfer.

Here are the Kingston Trio [George Grove, Bill Zorn and Rick Dougherty (backed by bass player Paul Gabrielson) carrying on the Kingston Trio legacy] from the album/DVD “The Kingston Trio Live! at the Historic Yuma Theatre”.  I hope you enjoy this! 


Thought for the Day:

“For me the safety pin is about rebellion, and I’m punk in the soul.” – Donatella Versace

The Vimy Ridge Smile certainly touched a chord in many of you.

Ian Roote of West Vancouver, BC, Canada writes:

“Hi Dave…

Thanks for this reminder of some incredible Canadian history.

With the extra spare time from covid last fall I put a book together on my grand fathers WW1 experiences.

Cheers Ian

PS… the suffering we have all had to put up with Covid in the last year sure pale to what the soldiers of WW1 had to endure.”

Frank Fowlie of Richmond, BC, Canada writes:

“Mother Canada at the Vimy Memorial:

Bob Beasley of Pain Court, Ontario, Canada writes:

“Thank you, Dave, for your report on then Battle of Vimy Ridge. It is impossible to understate the importance of this battle in the formation of Canada as a country. While Canada became a legal entity on July 1, 1867, with the passage of the British North America Act, it is argued by many historians with whom I agree that it was the Battle of Vimy Ridge that gave Canada its true identity for the first time. Brigadier-General Alexander Ross had commanded the 28th (North-West) Battalion at Vimy. Later, as president of the Canadian Legion, he proposed the first Veterans’ post-war pilgrimage to the new Vimy Memorial in 1936. He said of the battle: “It was Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific on parade. I thought then… that in those few minutes I witnessed the birth of a nation.” 


Jack Irwin of West Vancouver, BC, Canada writes:

“Thank for the reminder about Vimy Ridge, it was a great article. Andrea and I traveled there May 2018 and did a road trip through the north of France and Southern Belgium to some of the WW1 sites. Vimey Ridge  was a very moving experience that every Canadian should see someday . We met Mike and Sharon Padwick later, and visited Mike’s Uncle’s gravesite( British WW2 )  after searching over hundreds of white crosses. It is customary for the Families of the dead soldiers to write an epitaph, and In true British fashion, Mikes Great Grandfather came up with “Well Fought”. We all that was a bit lame, but so much his Grandfather.

Have a great weekend.



Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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