JOE BTFSPIK OF LI’L ABNER FAME

Li’l Abner was a popular comic strip character from 1934-1977. A big muscular guy. Always clad in overalls. A naive, gullible, sweet natured hillbilly. A country bumpkin who lived in a log cabin.

Li’l Abner was the brain child of Al Capp. A comic strip author.

My generation remembers Li’l Abner. We read the comic strip every day. Today’s generation probably know him not. In between generations, perhaps.

Li’l Abner’s girl friend was Daisy Mae. A virtuous, voluptuous, barefoot damsel.

They lived in Dogpatch.

Joe Btfspik was a character in the comic strip. A poor lonely man. His life perpetually jinxed. Nothing ever went right for him. He did not have the ability to succeed at anything. At all times, a dark cloud over his head. Clapp drew the cloud in every time Btfspik appeared. Btfspik’s personal storm cloud.

Bad luck followed him everywhere. Instantaneous bad luck.

This column is not about Li’l Abner and his friends. I use Li’l Abner and his fellow comic strip characters to introduce Walter Hunt. The Joe Btfspik of his time.

Hunt was born in Lewis County, New York. As far north in the State as one could get. Extremely cold in winter. A short warm summer.

Born, 1796. Died, 1859.

He was the eldest of 13 children. Received a minimal education in a one room schoolhouse. Hunt eventually settled in Lowville, a community in the southern part of Lewis County.

Lowville was the site of a textile mill. Hunt worked in the textile mill where he impressed his employer with his ability to repair machinery and improve a machine’s efficiency.

Hunt was a prolific inventor. A genius at making things. During the course of his life time, he invented the fountain pen, sewing machine, safety pin, flax spinner, foot pedal street car bell, hard coal burning stove, a street sweeping machine, an early form bicycle, an ice plow, a knife sharpener, and the forerunner of the Winchester repeating rifle.

Hunt should have died rich. He did not.

Hunt never made any money. He was a failure at making money. Whereas he was equal in genius to Thomas Edison, Hunt did not possess Edison’s money making vision. Edison died extremely rich. Hunt, poor.

Many of Hunt’s inventions remain in use today. Hunt failed to recognize their value.

The safety pin stands out. He took a piece of wire and in less than four hours twisted it into a spring on one end and a clasp on the other. His safety pin still in use today.

Hunt patented the safety pin. He owed someone $15. He sold the patent to W. R. Grace & Company for $100. The safety pin was a million dollar idea and made millions for the Grace Company and subsequent manufacturers.

The sewing machine. The design was that of a locksmith sewing machine. The machine did single needle stitching.

The sewing machine a winner to this day!

Hunt never patented the sewing machine. His reason helps give us insight into his thinking.

At the time, women worked at home sewing by hand things like a man’s dress shirt, women’s dresses, and summer pants. The ladies were known as seamstresses.

Hunt failed to obtain the sewing machine patent for fear it would create massive unemployment for the seamstress community.

Appreciate the difference a sewing machine made in the sewing of clothing. A man’s dress shirt took 14 hours to make. Using the sewing machine, 1 hour 15 minutes. A woman’s dress took 10 hours. A pair of summer pants 3 hours. The time for production of the last two items was also significantly reduced by use of the sewing machine.

Hunt’s sewing machine was reinvented several years later by Elias Howe. He patented it. M. Singer invented and patented a similar sewing machine around the same time. A lawsuit erupted. Howe and Singer arrived at an amicable settlement. Both became millionaires ten times over.

Hunt’s other mentioned inventions worked out the same way. Hunt never made any money. A genius at making things, he could not turn any of them into wealth for himself and his family.

No question. Walter Hunt sadly was a Joe Btfspik. The cloud followed them both.

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