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The History of Clothespins

Clothespins were developed in America during the 1840s. In March 1852, Harper’s magazine illustrated a man making clothespins. In 1853, D. M. Smith of Springfield, Vermont earned a patent for a spring-type clothespin. Mark Twain even mentioned clothespins in 1869’s “Sketches.” In 1895, Montgomery Ward & Co. sold the traditional clothespin (wooden with a lengthwise slot) in boxes of 30 dozen for 32 cents a box and Sears, Roebuck & Co. sold five-gross boxes for 50 cents each. However, the spring-type model soon took over in popularity. (Interestingly, the newer style was sold at Sears, Roebuck & Co. for 7 cents per dozen or 80 cents per gross.) By the early 20th century, clothespins had become essential clothesline accessories and people had begun to think of additional uses for them. Various magazines published articles suggesting different uses for clothespins, such as “Making Toys of Clothes-Pins” (Harper’s Bazaar, January 1909) and “Fun with Nothing but Clothespins” (Ladies’ Home Journal, August 1908). In the 1930s, Popular Mechanics joined in and touted the many uses of clothespins for the weekend dabbler and School Arts magazine published a piece about clothespin tools helping children work with clay, plaster of Paris, and metal. Clothespin dolls were popular in the 1940s. (Notably, similar clothespin “ballerinas” and Christmas ornaments made from clothespins became popular in the 1970s and 1980s). Although plastic clothespins were introduced in the 1950s, the wooden version remained highly popular. However, foreign competition (despite President Carter’s approval of major quotas on certain foreign imports, including clothespins), advances in washing machine technology, new clothing materials that dried faster, and the reintroduction of drying racks in the mid-1960s conspired to make clothespins less essential. Despite their fall from penultimate popularity, clothespins are still around today and frequently fulfill both their originally intended purpose as well as many other creative uses.

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