Two common inventions found their way into our lives

Published 2:15 pm Thursday, February 18, 2016

If you were given a short piece of wire and asked to make something with it, what would come to mind?

Maybe a bracelet, tooth pick, guitar string or dental floss. But no, there are two uses civilians have needed. How about a hairpin or a paper clip?

A hairpin is a long device used to hold a person’s hair in place. It may be used simply to secure long hair out of the way for convenience or as part of an elaborate hairstyle.

The creation of different hairstyles, especially among women, seems to be common to all cultures and all periods and many past, and current, societies use hairpins.

Hairpins made of metal, ivory, bronze, carved wood, etc. were used in ancient Assyria and Egypt for securing decorated hairstyles.

The hairpin may be decorative and encrusted with jewels and ornaments, or it may be utilitarian and designed to be almost invisible while holding a hairstyle in place.

Some hairpins are a single straight pin, but modern versions are more likely to be constructed from different lengths of wire that are bent in half with a u-shaped end and a few kinks along the two opposite portions.

The finished pin may vary from two to six inches in final length. The length of the wires enables placement in several styles of hairdos to hold the style in place. The kinks enable retaining the pin during normal movements.

A bobby pin is a type of hairpin, usually of metal or plastic, used to hold hair in place. It is a small double-pronged hairpin or clip that slides into hair with the prongs open and then the flexible prongs close over the hair to hold it in place. It is unobtrusively colored to blend with the hair color and become invisible. Some Bobby pins became popular in the 1920s to hold the new bobbed hairstyles.

In addition to bobbed hair, bobby pins are often used in up-dos, buns, and other hairstyles where a sleek look is desired. To use a bobby pin in hair, hold the hair in the desired position and push the bobby pin into place.

Bobby pins can also be used to hold head coverings such as headbands, hats and bandannas.

Having a readily available thin, flat piece of metal means the bobby pin can be used in other ways as well:

• As makeshift lock picks by straightening out two bobby pins to pick the lock.

• They can be used in place of a clothespin for drying lightweight articles.

• They can be used as clips to hold multi-portion packages closed between uses.

• They can be slipped over book pages as a bookmark.

• Bobby pins may be used to thread laces through precut holes in leather and other heavy materials.

Those who remember “back in the day” will remember making pin curls with the pins and sleeping in them overnight.

The finger was held against the head and hair was wrapped around the finger and secured with the pin. This was done on dry or wet hair. Nearly every night is was necessary to perform this function, as there was no hair spray to keep the curls in place.

On the other hand, another use for the thin wire was the paper clip.

A paper clip is an instrument used to hold sheets of paper together, usually made of steel wire bent to a looped shape. Common to paper clips proper is their utilization of and friction between wire and paper. When a small number of sheets are inserted between the two parts of the clip, tension in the bend of the wire holds the sheets together.

Paper clips usually have an oblong shape with straight sides.

Definite proof that the modern type of paper clip was well known in 1899 at the latest, is the patent granted to William Middlebrook of Waterbury, Connecticut.

The thin wire is versatile in its nature and the clip is used in other areas.

Several devices call for a very thin rod to push a recessed button, which the user might only rarely need. This is seen on most CD-ROM drives as an “emergency eject.” Various smart phones require the use of a long thin object such as a paper clip to eject the SIM card and some Palm PDAs advise the use of a paper clip to reset the device.

How were papers held together before paper clips? Some of my friends will recall the days when the upper corner of the papers was folded over and a small tear in the fold held the papers together.

These two little inventions are a part of daily life that we take for granted. They were invented before “Shark Tank” to promote them or infomercials to advertise their usefulness and still they found their way into our lives.

Jo-Ann Boepple works at the Edwardsburg Area History Museum.