A pin, so common and so cheap today, was once so expensive that only the wealthy could afford even a few. The term pin-money dates from that time and originally came from the allowance a husband gave his wife to purchase pins.
From an historical point of view, it appears that the need of something with which to fasten together pieces of cloth and like material has been met from ancient times by various devices. Among the remains of the bronze age are found pins and brooches of bronze. In Egyptian tombs have been found elaborate and costly pins, which range in sizes from two inches to seven or eight inches long, and have large gold heads or bands of gold around the upper end. Designs were often worked on these heads and bands. The largest of these pins were probably used for fastening the hair. Till the middle of the sixteenth century the poorer class in England used rude skewers of wood, while the more fortunate had pins made of gold, silver and brass. The Indians, in the ancient cities of Mexico, satisfied their need for pins by using the thorn of the agave.
As early as 1483, pins were important enough in England to warrant the passing of a law by Parliament prohibiting their importation. By 1540, however, they were being imported in large quantities from France. Parliament again passed a law regarding pins in 1543. This act provided that "no person shall put to sale any pins, but only such as shall be double-headed, and have the heads soldered fast to the shank of the pin, well smoothed, and shanks well shapen, the points well round filed, canted, and sharpened." Some pins of good quality were made at this time, but a large portion of those against which the legislative enactment was directed were made of iron wire, blanched and passed for brass pins. Only three years after this prohibitory law was passed it became obsolete because of the improvements which had been made in the production of these articles. England continued to receive its supply from France until John Tilsby began their manufacture in Gloucestershire. His business increased to such an extent that in a few years he had 1,500 people in his employ. In 1636 the pinmakers of London formed a corporation and established the industry of Bristol and Birmingham. This latter city is still the center of the industry in England.
During this period the pins were made with two coils of wire fastened at one end of a length of wire, the other end of which was sharpened. First a wire, somewhat finer than that which was to be used for the pin. was coiled around a spit on a lathe. This was cut up into sections, each consisting of two turns. These coils were then annealed or softened and placed in a heap. Boys stuck the ends of the pins, which had been cut to the proper length, into this pile until a coil stuck. A workman pressed this coil in a die to make it hold to the pin. The head was then soldered and the other end of the pin filed and sharpened. Finally the pin was straightened and blanched or whitened.
The First Pin is a Flat-headed Copper Pin Probably Used for Fastening Hair. The Second is a Star-headed Bronze Pin. Both are of the Types which have been found among the Remains of the Bronze Age. The Third Pin is a Handmade Pin of the Seventeenth Century.
* Illustrations by courtesy of the American Pin Company.
In the United States the colonists early felt the need of local production. The colonial legislature of Carolina offered prizes in 1775 for the first native-made pins and needles. The first American pins were made in Rhode Island, during the Revolution, by Jeremiah Wilkinson. About the same time, Samuel Slocum made pins in Providence. These were handmade with twisted wire heads.
A View of the Pin Machine Room in a Modern Pinmaking Plant.
There are many types of pin machines which make anywhere from ninety to three hundred pins a minute, depending on the quality of the pin made.
Pinmaking machines were first invented in the United States. During the War of 1812, the industry was started because of the difficulty of getting pins from England, where most of them were made. The industry was not successful, however, till 1836, when the Howe Manufacturing Company was formed at Birmingham, Conn. It is a curious coincident that the first successful American pin manufacturing company, making the new machine-made pins, should be established in the Connecticut town of the same name as the English city which had been the center of pinmaking for nearly two hundred years.
In 1817 a paper was filed at the patent office by Seth Hunt, describing a machine for making pins with "head, shaft, and point in one entire piece." This machine, however, did not come into use. Lemuel W. Wright, of New Hampshire, secured, in 1824, an English patent for a machine for making solid-headed pins. This was the beginning of the present industry. A factory equipped with Wright's machines was established in London, but was not successful. Daniel Foot-Taylen, of Birmingham, purchased this equipment and secured an extension of Wright's patents for five years from 1838. He carried the production of machine-made pins to a commercial basis. Wright's machines, however, did not complete all operations. Dr. John Neland Howe, a physician of Bellevue Hospital, New York City, formed a company in 1832 for the manufacture of pins. This concern was not successful, but in 1835 a second company was formed by Dr. Howe, who had great faith in the future of the industry. Nine years later, Samuel Slocum, of Connecticut, invented a new machine for sticking the pins on papers.