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, while remaining ingestion hazard, 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 labelled 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.
The fibula, a form of brooch, was invented by the Myceaneans on the Greek Peloponnesus between the 14th and 13th Century BC, and is considered an early precursor to a safety pin since they were used in a similar manner. Fibulae were used by Greek women and men to help secure tunics.
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.
The sharpened pin, that is attached to a coiled wire is connected with a cap that is hooked at the end of the wire. Pushing the pin into the opening of the cap secures the safety of the pin, and the clasp is the closed.
Whilst the cover on the safety pin makes it less likely to hurt someone, a version was invented specially for use with babies' nappies, the nappy pin. This is larger and stronger than the typical safety pin. Modern nappy pins have the sliding cap to lock the pin.
While the cover on the safety pin makes it less likely to hurt someone, a version was invented especially for use with babies' diapers, the diaper pin. This is larger and stronger than the typical safety pin. Modern diaper pins have either a sliding cap to lock the pin or a S shaped channel inside the cap.
The laryngologist Dr. Chevalier Jackson devised special instruments for removing swallowed safety pins. Because small children often swallowed them and open pins could be lodged dangerously in their throats, Jackson called them "danger pins" and sometimes displayed arrangements of those he had extracted. Safety pin ingestion is still a common problem in some countries, including Turkey, today.
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 Hell whom 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 popular culture outlets.
Safety pins hold a value in certain cultures and traditions. In India pins are kept over generations and passed down to daughters. Ukrainians use pins as a way to ward off evil spirts when attached to children's clothing. In other countries a safety pin is a form of good luck.
After the 2016 UK Brexit vote and again after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, safety pins were worn as a symbol of solidarity with minorities, refugees, immigrants and others who had been blamed and vilified in the press in the lead up to the vote.