Thursday, April 11

A Toast to Walter Hunt

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By Art Cashin

On this day (-1)  in 1849, the U.S. Government issued patent #6281, for a very remarkable and stunningly successful product. The product was so simple yet useful that most people think it's been around for centuries.

No smarty, it was not the telephone nor the fax nor even the radio, this product sold ten times as many items as every telephone, fax or radio ever made. Pointedly speaking, short of matches maybe no other product has sold so often or in such volume.

The product is....the safety pin! And its invention was a bartender's delight. In a saloon conversation a customer complained of the problem of fastening things easily without cutting your finger or harming the person wearing what you were fastening. After a couple of rounds, a guy named Walter Hunt opined that the solution to the riddle was not so tough. After calling for a piece of string steel (to the left of the olives and two shelves down from the boiled eggs - - doesn't every saloon have them) he began to twiddle.

Egged on by cynics and buyers of rounds he first resolved a loop at the end to give the gadget spring. But what helped was a spring with two pointed ends. Amidst hecklers and more drink buyers Hunt showed that by hammering one end (with a bartender's muddle); you could cap the sharp end of the pin. Thus in less than three hours Walter Hunt had invented one of the most widely sold items in human history.
But it wasn't over. The cynics at the bar said it would never work. Another round please! But one guy said, "Hunt, I'll pay you $100 for the rights." And Hunt said, "Sold!" Thus in three hours and ten minutes Hunt had conceived invented and then sold the rights to one of the simplest yet most successful inventions in history.

It’s hard to imagine. Whoever heard of a clever guy sitting at a bar giving away million dollar ideas for free?  Pass those peanuts please.

Many thanks to Mr. Cashin and UBS Financial Services who graciously allow his historical musings to be republished on this site. To enjoy more of Art's posts simply click on "Cashin's Comments" in the label section on the sidebar.

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