Morse ad in The Sentinel

Moses Morse notified his watch works customers in the New Hampshire Sentinel on the day he left Keene.

Did you know that it was a former Keene resident whose invention made the common pin widely available to the general public? Moses L. Morse, born in Sutton, Mass., in 1781, lived in Keene during the first decade of the 19th century. He worked as a watch and clock maker while in the town.

Morse returned to Massachusetts by 1810. It was during the War of 1812 that Morse, aided by Oliver Hall, devised a machine for the production of pins with solid heads. The pin had actually been invented thousands of years earlier. Prior to Morse’s time, however, pins were made by hand and were rare and expensive. Morse’s invention made production quicker, so that pins were less expensive and more readily available.

He developed a machine that could make pins with a head attached and make them much faster than those made by hand. In 1814, he received the first American patent for a pin-making machine.

In June of 1815, Morse and three partners received authority from the Massachusetts Legislature to incorporate a company known as The Patent Pin Manufactory “for the purpose of manufacturing pins with solid heads from the wire in one operation ...” Morse’s machine and the manufactory were not a commercial success, however. One contemporary suggested that the pin-making machine exhibited “much mechanical genius,” but was too delicate to be truly successful.

Moses Morse passed away in Worcester, Mass., in 1831. One year later John Howe of Connecticut received another patent for a pin-making machine and began the first truly successful pin manufacturing company in this country. Howe is remembered today as the father of the American pin manufacturing industry. Former Keene resident Moses Morse, like so many other contributors to American industrial progress, has been virtually forgotten today.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.