Abridgments of Specifications Relating to Needles & Pins

A.D. 1755-1866

Published at the Office of the Commissioners of Patents for Inventions



The Indexes to Patents are now so numerous and costly as to render their purchase inconvenient to a large number of inventors and others, to whom they have become indispensable. To obviate this difficulty, short abstracts or abridgments of the Specifications of Patents under each head of Invention have been prepared for publication separately and so arranged as to form at once a Chronological, Alphabetical. Subject-matter and Reference Index to the class to which they relate. As these publications do not supersede the necessity for consulting the Specifications, the prices at which the printed copies of the latter are sold have been added.

The number of Specifications from the earliest period to the end of the year 1866 amounts to 59.222. A large proportion of the Specifications enrolled under the old law, previous to 1852, embrace several distinct inventions and many of those filed under the new law of 1852 indicate various applications of the single invention to which the Patent is limited. Considering, therefore, the large number of inventions and applications of inventions to be separately dealt with, it cannot be doubted that severai properly belonging to the group which forms the subject of this volume have been overlooked. In the progress of the whole work such omissions will, from time to time, become apparent and be supplied in second or supplemental editions.

This volume contains Abridgments of Specifications to the end of the year 1866. From that date the Abridgments have not been published in classes, but will be found in chronological order in the quarterly volumes of the "Chronological and Descriptive Index" (see List of Works at the end of this book). It is intended, however, to publish these Abridgments in classes as soon as the Abridgments of all the Specifications from the earliest period to the end of 1866 have appeared in a classified form. Until that takes place, the reader (by the aid of the Subject-matter Index for each year) can continue his examination of the Abridgments relating to the subject of his search in the Chronological and Descriptive Index.

This series includes the inventions relating to needles for sewing by hand, needles for sewing machines, crochet needles and knitting needles for hand knitting, but not the barbed needles employed in framework knitting or stocking frame machinery. It also embraces improvements in the form and manufacture of ordinary pins and hair pine, but not of breast pins, brooches, or similar articles of jewellery.

Metallic or wooden pins to be used as substitutes for nails, bolts, or like articles, are not included. Several inventions of machinery for the manufacture of nails and bolts are included, but only where the application of such machinery to the manufacture of pins is obvious, or is expressly claimed. Wrappers and cases to contain needles and pins for sale appear in this series, but not cases for the pocket and work-boxes.

The Abridgments marked thus (••) in the following pages were prepared for another series or class and have been transferred therefrom to this volume.

B. Woodcroft  (May, 1871)



The various stages of the manufacture of pins and needles will be found chronologically arranged in the abridgments which constitute the present series; but it has nevertheless been thought that the addition of the few following facts will add considerably to the completeness of the work. Pins formed of wire seem to have been unknown in England till about the middle of the 15th century, before which time they were larger than the present pin and were made of boxwood, bone, ivory and some few of silver. Metal pins had however long been matters of history.

In the Egyptian tombs they are frequently found and are much more elaborate and costly than those produced to suit modem requirements. They vary in length up to 7 or 8 inches and are furnished sometimes with large gold heads and sometimes with a band of gold around the upper end, those of the latter kind having probably been used for securing the hair.

The ancient Mexicans were familiar with their use, but they also found a convenient substitute in the thorns of the agave.

About the middle of the 15th century metal pins were in use to a small extent in this country and we bear of Catherine Howard importing them from France somewhere about the year 1540. The importation of pins really dates much further back, for in 1483 it was made the subject of a prohibitory statute.

In 1543, another Act, passed in the reign of Henry VIII., provided "that no person shall put to sale any pinnes but only such as shall be double-headed and have the heads soldered fast to the shank of the pinnes, well smoothed, the shank well shapen, the points well and round, filed, cauted and sharpened".

Within three years from this date the manufacture was so much improved that the enactment became of little value. It is very probable that the imported pins were the cause of this manifestation of government interference. The best pins were made of brass, but in France it had become very general to manufacture pins from iron wire, which, being blanched like the others, passed for brass.

The pins so made were very defective and in little time their use was confined to the continent. The French especially could with difficulty be prevailed upon to discard them and even as late as 1695 it is recorded that the seizure of some millions of the faulty pins by order of the lieutenant of police, was confirmed by the parliament and the whole quantity was ordered to be burnt by the common executioner.

The manufacture of pins was started in Gloucestershire by John Tilsby in 1626 and the business soon proved so prosperous that it gave employment to 1.500 persons. Ten years later it was established in London. About the middle of the last century wire-drawing and pin-making were commenced in Birmingham by the Rylands family, who carried on most successfully this branch of industry. So much of the business as related to pins was transferred about the year 1785 by Mr. Samuel Rylands to his nephew, Mr. Thomas Phipson and this manufacture has since been continued by the present firm of Thomas Phipson & Son.

The trade gradually improved, but without any remarkable impetus, until 1824, when Mr. Lemuel W. Wright, a native of Massachusetts, patented in this country an important machine of his own invention (see below Needles & Pins British Patents), which is often believed to have been the first ever contrived for making solid headed pins. This is an error, as a glance at the following abridgments will show, far nearly seven years earlier Mr. Hunt had been at work on a machine for the same purpose. Mr. Wright, however, introduced his machine to the public in London, where it was worked at a factory in Lambeth. The enterprise was not successful and the company failed before the new pins could be brought into the market. The machinery was then transferred to Stroud, in Gloucestershire, the county where the trade had been originally introduced two centuries before and here the manufacture was conducted by Messrs. D. F. Taylor & Co..

The first solid headed pins were sold by this firm in London somewhere about the year 1833.

The first efforts to establish a home trade in America appear to have been in 1775. In that year Ihe Convention of the Province Carolina, with a view to the encouragement of the manufacture of pins and needles, offered:

50 l. for the first twenty-five dozen of the former, equal to British imported pins, costing 7s.. 6d, a dozen and to the manufacturer of the first 25.000 needles, sorted from one to twelve inclusive and equal to needles from Great Britain of the price of 2s. 6d. sterling per thousand, the same reward, if made within twelve months (1).

Who gained the prize we are not told, but it is probable that public attention was attracted to the desirability of establishing the trade, for in the same year, 1775, we hear of a proposition by Leonard Chester, of Wethersfield, to erect a pin factory at that place.

Some years later Dr. Apollos Kinsley, of Connecticut, a man of much mechanical ingenuity and the patentee of certain printing and brick-making machines, invented a machine for making pins; but neither of these projects appears to have succeeded. Soon after the war of 1812, however, when, in consequence of the interruption to commerce, the value of a paper of pins was not less than one dollar — and these were of very inferior quality to those now worth only 6 cents a paper — the manufacture was really undertaken.

The first attempt was made by some Englishmen, at the old state prison, in what was then called Greenwich village, now a part of New York city. The enterprise was soon abandoned and was again undertaken with the same tools in 1820 at the Bellevue almshouse, but again without success.

In 1833 Mr. John J. Howe, of New York, patented his machine for making pins, with wire or "spun heads", like those imported from Europe and in 1836 the Howe Manufacturing Company started at New York. Their operations were transferred to Birmingham, Connecticut, in 1836 and soon included the new process of making pins with solid heads, patented by Mr. Howe in 1840.

About the time that the Howe Company were removing to their new establishment at Birmingham, another fectory was being established at Poughkeepsie, on the Hudson river, by Messrs. Slocum, Gellson & Co., who adopted the processes invented by Mr. Samuel Slocum for producing the solid-headed pin. The interests of the latter firm were finally transferred to the American Pin Company at Waterbury, Connecticut, where the business has been carried on successfully for a number of years.

At the present time the total weight of pins made in the United States is supposed to be from seven to ten tons per week. Among uncivilised people at very early periods attempts were made to form needles or bodkins of bone and ivory. The use of needles were known to the ancient Egyptians, a few having been found in their tombs. These were of bronze and of large size, being from three to four inches in length; but Wilkinson states that such as were employed in fine work must have been of a very minute kind. Pliny mentions the use in his day of needles of bronze for sewing and knitting.

In 1370 needles were manufactured at Nuremburg. There seems to be some doubt about the date of the introduction of the needle into this country. Stow tells us that needles were not sold in Cheapside till the reign of Queen Mary and that they were then made by a Spanish negro, who refused to discover the secret of his art. Another authority (Wilke's London Ency.) says that they were first made in England by a native of India in 1545, but the art was lost at his death. The Encyclopédie des Gens du Monde (2) says that the first metallic needle factory in England was established in 1543. We may, however, be quite sure that the needle in its present form had been introduced into England prior to 1553, for we hear of its use by the Lady Elizabeth at Woodstock in that year and the result of her labours, the embroidered back of a hook, is at present in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

Whether or not the art of manufacturing needles was really lost at the death of the "native of India", it seems to be quite clear at all events, that no extensive centre of manufacture had been established till 1650. In that year, Mr. Damer, an ancestor of the Milton family, settled at Long Crendon, in Buckinghamshire, Christopher Greening and his three children. This little family, doubtless assisted by the benevolence of their patron, set up a small needle factory, which if it do not exist at the present day, certainly was carried on until very recently. At present Worcestershire is the chief seat of the needle manufacture, but even in this case it is not at all clear when Redditch became the centre of the trade. There are slight indications, it is said, of Redditch needle-making for a period of nearly two centuries, but beyond that all is blank. There are no particular advantages offered by the situation other than that common to many other spots, of being near to the seat of the iron trade.

It is unnecessary to enter into any particulars concerning the changes which have occurred in the needle manufacture, since the present series of abridgments embodies all the improvements of any importance.

It may, however, be well to add the following descriptions of apparatus designed with the view of obviating the inconvenience caused by the dust generated in the grinding process. It is notorious that this fine mixture of metal and sandy particles is productive of serious consequences to the health of the workpeople and as far back as the year 1811, the Society of Arts bestirred itself to find a preventive. In that year the silver medal of the society was voted to Mr. Thomas Wood, of Great Berkhampstead, for his improved grindstone for pointing needles. It was nothing more than an ordinary grindstone provided with a hood or case in which was a pane of glass to enable the operator to watch his work. The current of air formed by the motion of the stone was confined within the case and carried with it the fine particles, which it deposited on the lower part of the inside of a wet cloth which formed the connection between the sides of the case.

In 1813, the apparatus of Mr. George Prior, jun., of Otley, in Yorkshire, for the same purpose, obtained a premium of 25 guineas. In this apparatus the dust was removed by causing a current of air "to pass the top, sides and bottom of the grindstone by a tube enclosing them, which tube was slit lengthways on the sides, top and bottom, opposite the workman; one end of the tube having a communication with a pair of bellows worked by a crank at the axis of the wheel" which turned the stone. The dust was blown into a receiver, from which a funnel or tube carried it into the outer air or into a chimney.

In 1816, Mr. Thomas Roberts, of Dumfries, proposed to remove the noxious dust by means of a "fly wheel or ventilator". This apparatus, for which the inventor received a reward of 10 guineas, simply consisted of a ventilating fan of the ordinary character.

The large gold medal of the society was given in 1822 to Mr. J. H. Abraham, of Sheffield, for his magnetic guard, intended to protect persons employed in pointing needles and other branches of dry-grinding. The stone rotated through a slot in a canvas or wood screen so that the jet of dust, after having been carried  beyond the screen by the force of the grindstone, was prevented from returning. As an additional preventive, magnets were suspended over the stone and the grinder was furnished with a gauze muzzle fitted with magnets, which collected the fine metallic dost from the atmosphere (3).


(1) Bishop's History of American Manufactures (Philadelphia 1861) vol. 1 p.616. The price quoted for British pins is clearly erroneous.

(2) Paris, 1833, vol. 1

(3) For further particulars of the various contrivances here alluded to, see the Transactions of the Society of Arts, vols. 29, 31, 34, 40.