Celebrating simplicity and practicality on International Safety Pin Day

After getting rather esoteric yesterday on Internet of Things Day, we get right back to practical reality today – 10 April is International Safety Pin Day.

Apparently the inventor of the Safety Pin, Walter Hunt, was never short on clever ideas – he invented a flax spinning machine, a fire engine gong, a forest saw and a coal-burning stove, among others. But as good as he was with coming up with clever new inventions, finances probably wasn’t his strong suit.

Consider the safety pin, for example…

The safety pin - strong, durable and practical, yet safe enough to fasten a baby's nappy.(© All Rights Reserved)
The safety pin – strong, durable and practical, yet safe enough to fasten a baby’s nappy.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Legend has it that, faced with a $15 debt to a friend, Hunt figured the best way to get the money was to invent something new. So, armed with a piece of sharpened brass wire which he coiled in the middle and equipped with a clasp at the end to hold and shield the sharp edge, he created the first safety pin. He patented the concept on 10 April 1849, sold it to W. R. Grace and Company for $400, paid his friend the $15 he owed, and was left with the rather attractive sum of $385 for his efforts. Not too shabby! Sadly for Hunt the story didn’t end there. The new owners of the safety pin patent ran with the concept and is said to have made millions from the invention. I can imagine this must have left Hunt with a rather sour taste in the mouth, but then again, he may not have noticed, most likely being kept busy working on some other new inventions already.

To this day, Walter Hunt’s safety pins remains one of those super-useful things to have around in the house, the car and anywhere you may ever have a need for a fastener or a pin. The safety clasp means you won’t hurt yourself feeling around for it in a cupboard or the car’s cubbyhole, and beyond its function as a ‘normal’ pin, it’s great for holding together torn or damaged clothing, or any variety of other things that need holding together.

And of course, if you’re that way inclined, you can even use it as a piece of emergency jewellery!

About clip-on ties, real ties and mathematics

Rumor has it that today, 84 years ago in 1928, some clever folk came up with the concept of the clip-on tie. You know, those ties that look like the real deal, but instead of being tied around your neck just consist of the hanging bit with a permanent knot at the top, which can be attached to your shirt via a little metal clip stuck to the back of the knot.

Try as you might, but a clip-on tie will never have the 'oomph' of a classy, properly tied tie.(© All Rights Reserved)
Try as you might, but a clip-on tie will never have the ‘oomph’ of a classy, properly tied tie.
(© All Rights Reserved)

I’m not sure if it was originally designed for people too lazy to tie a tie, or for people who had difficulty mastering the skill, but it proved to be quite a useful invention. Disabled people can use it without trouble. So can kids. Cops and security personnel wear clip-on ties as a safety precaution – it negates the potential risk of being strangled by your conventional necktie. Similarly, people in factory environments who wear ties are also advised to wear clip-ons – in the unfortunate event that the tie gets caught in a piece of machinery, it will simply clip off, rather than pulling its owner into the machine as well. (Then again, why people in factories would wear ties I have no idea.)

On the downside, clip-ons aren’t exactly haute couture – you are unlikely to get a designer-styled, silk clip-on tie. And a clip-on tie pretty much looks like a clip-on tie – the unique individuality of a slightly unsymmetrical knot is not an option. And of course you cannot go for the cool chic of the ‘loosened tie look’ with your clip-on tie – well, I guess you can clip it on to one side of your loosened collar, but somehow it just ain’t going to have the same effect!

So what does a clip-on tie have to do with science, you may ask? Well, very little, but it did bring to mind a mathematics book by Thomas Fink and Yong Mao, called ‘The 85 ways to tie a tie’ – a book where the authors use concepts from topology and a mathematical representation of knots to prove that a conventional neck tie can be tied in exactly 85 possible ways. The 85 ways are pretty theoretical – apparently only a dozen or so are sufficiently unique and handsome to be sensible candidates for an actual tie knot.

Yes, today is about ties, but as is often the case, the maths are lurking just below the surface!