Safety pins ...

Safety pins ...  Photo by Dominique James (Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.)

Safety pins ...  Photo by Dominique James (Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved.)

There's a safety pin within reach when you most need one. Like its cousin, the zipper, I wonder if there's a household in America, or any household anywhere in the modern civilized world, where there's none. It's easy to find one. It's as ubiquitous as far as ubiquity goes.

In our house, for instance, I didn't even think about it until I thought of photographing it the other day. It wasn't even hard, and it didn't take me long, to look for where it is. Unlike some bigger or more important objects sight unseen for days or weeks or months, I found the safety pins right away.

From Wikipedia:

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 are widely used to fasten cloth diapers (nappies), as the safety clasp prevents the baby from being jabbed. 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 labeled 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 $10,000 in 2008 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.


During the emergence of punk rock in the late seventies, safety pins became associated with the genre, its followers and fashion. Some claim the look was taken originally from Richard Hellwhom 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 pop-culture outlets.

Interesting story, how it came about, and what 'cultural' use it has been put to. However, one that's relevant today, which puts the humble safety pin in the public's consciousness, is how it's being used and 'worn' for quite a different reason than that its 'unfortunate' inventor have most likely never ever thought of.

Someone I know wears a safety pin every day to secure an undergarment in place. For this purpose, it's being discreetly worn, without being seen. In my lifetime, I've personally used the practical safety pins a number of times, in a way that's intended to be used: for example, to put the back-end of a tied necktie in place (in the glaring absence of a tie bar), among some other uses.

These past few days in America, after the stunning presidential election upset, some people have been wearing the safety pin quite visibly, on clothes over their hearts, in the fashion of Brexit.

In this case, the humble, ubiquitous safety pin is being co-opted as a strong and powerful symbol, albeit unassuming, of assurance, reassurance, and solidarity with those who feel uncertain and fearful of the new unexpected reality in which we all found ourselves waking up to.

The tacit message of the safety pin in this uncertain time is: You are not alone. I am with you. I've got your back.