A pin is a device used for fastening objects or material together, and can have three sorts of body: a shaft of a rigid inflexible material meant to be inserted in a slot, groove, or hole (as with pivots, hinges, and jigs); a shaft connected to a head and ending in a sharp tip meant to pierce one or more pieces of soft materials like cloth or paper (the straight or push pin); a single strip of a rigid but flexible material (e.g. a wire) whose length has been folded into parallel prongs in such fashion that the middle length of each curves towards the other so that, when anything is inserted between them, they act as a clamp (e.g. the bobby pin), or two strips of a rigid material bound together by a spring at one end so that, when the spring held open, one can insert some material between the prongs at the other end that, the spring allowed to close, then clamp the inserted material. According to their function, pins can be made of metals (e.g. steel, copper, or brass), wood, or plastic.

Sewing and fashion pins

The development of the pin closely paralleled that of its perforated counterpart, the needle. Archaeological evidence suggests that curved sewing pins have been used for over four thousand years. Originally, these were fashioned out of iron and bone by the Sumerians and were used to hold clothes together. Later, pins were also used to hold pages of books together by threading the needle through their top corner.[1]

Many later pins were made of brass, a relatively hard and ductile metal that became available during the Bronze Age. This development was followed by the use of steel which was much stronger but tended to rust when exposed to humid air. The development of inexpensive electroplating techniques allowed the steel to be plated with nickel. Nickel did not rust, but tended to flake off the steel in humid weather, again allowing it to rust. However, this took many months or even years to happen, and as nickel plated steel pins were usually used only temporarily to hold fabric in place prior to sewing, no further refinement has been considered necessary. Note, however, that some modern specialty pins are made out of rust-proof and very strong titanium.[2]

Adam Smith described the manufacture of pins using extensive division of labor in his Wealth of Nations. John Ireland Howe invented a pin-making machine in 1832, and an improved machine in 1841; his Howe Manufacturing Company of Derby, Connecticut, used three machines to produce 72,000 pins per day in 1839.

Walter Hunt invented the safety pin by forming an eight-inch brass pin into a bent pin with a spring and guard. He sold the rights to his invention to pay a debt to a friend,[3] not knowing that he could have made millions of dollars.

Straight pins

Pin typeTypical size[Note 1]Typical lengthFeatures
Beading pins1478 in (22 mm)A wider-than-usual-head allows this pin to hold beads more easily.
T-pins0.75 mm1 14 in (32 mm)These pins have a head bent into a capital letter "T" to make it easier to grab with the finger tips.
Dressmaker pins17-201 116 in (27 mm)The most common type of sewing pin, they are used for light- to medium-weight fabrics and may have either a small flat head or a round plastic one.
Pleating pins171 116 in (27 mm)Considered "extra fine", they are used for pinning pleats and lightweight fabrics.
Appliqué pins0.6 mm34 in (19 mm)Pins have small round glass heads that are easy to work around; also, because the pins are comparatively short, they are less likely to "stick out" when holding small pieces of fabric against a larger one.
Bridal and lace pins171 14 in (32 mm)These pins are made entirely of stainless steel and will not rust; they are used for fine and lightweight fabrics.
Patchwork pins22 (0.5 mm)1 716 in (37 mm)Pins have extra sharp tips for penetrating thick iron-on patches; their size and length also make them suitable for quilting; they have glass heads that will not melt if pressed in an iron.
Quilting pins30 (0.6 mm)1 78 in (48 mm)Quilting pins are exceptionally long and often have glass heads.
Silk pins0.5 mm1 716 in (37 mm)Silk pins are suitable for lightweight fabrics and have a glass head that will not melt when ironed.
Pearlized pins241 12 in (38 mm)These have round plastic heads which have been painted (often in bright colors) to superficially resemble the appearance of pearls.
Sequin pins8 (0.5 mm)12 in (13 mm)Their exceptionally short length makes these pins suitable for appliqué; a large flat head makes them able to hold sequins in place.
Tidy pins-1 12 in (38 mm)U-shaped pins with no head are used for holding slip covers and doilies in place; often made of brass so that they will not rust; also called fork pins.
Hatpins-8 in (20 cm)These are exceptionally long decorative pins used to hold a woman's hat in place.

General purpose pins

The push pin was invented in 1900 by Edwin Moore[4] and quickly became a success. These pins are also called "thumbtacks". There is also a new push pin called a "paper cricket".

Steel pins without heads

Thin, hardened pins can be driven into wood with a hammer with the goal of not being seen.

Mechanical fasteners

In engineering and machine design, a pin is a machine element that secures the position of two or more parts of a machine relative to each other. A large variety of types has been known for a long time; the most commonly used are solid cylindrical pins, solid tapered pins, groove pins, slotted spring pins and spirally coiled spring pins.


  1. The size numbers given here correspond to those found on the packaging of various manufacturers-- they do not necessarily correspond to any objective width measurement or to the size numbers of other manufacturers. Measurements given in millimeters are actual millimeters.


  1. Petroski, Henry, "From Pins to Paper Clips", The Evolution of Useful Things, Knopf, New York, 1993, p. 53
  2. Bridgman, Roger. 1000 Inventions & Discoveries. New York: Dorling Kindersley Publishing , 2002, p.126
  3. Alfred, R (2008-10-04). "April 10, 1849: Safety Tech Gets to the Point, Baby". Wired. Archived from the original on April 30, 2014. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  4. US patent 654319, Edwin Moore, "Push-pin", published Jul 24, 1900
  • Henry Petroski, The Evolution of Useful Things, Chapter 4. ISBN 0-679-74039-2.
  • Robert Parmley, Standard handbook of fastening and joining. 1st edition. Chapter 2. McGraw-Hill (New York). 1977. ISBN 0-07-048511-9
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