Inventing a Mousetrap

The Perfect Mousetrap

Ralph Waldo Emerson is most often credited with saying “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door”. Whether or not he said it or some version of it is up for debate. What is true however is that thousands of inventors have heeded this advice in the perpetual quest to build a better mousetrap. And of course Connecticut inventors have been right in the thick of this mouse trap extravaganza.

Catching mice is an age old problem. Of course the first and some might say best mouse trap is a house cat. My cat Eli (no he’s not named after Whitney or Manning) is a prime mouser. Eli howls at our cellar door begging to go off on a hunting expedition and is often very successful. Though he’s been rather quiet lately, which I hope means he’s been completely successful in his mouse control efforts. And one of my favorite ancient poems has to do with a cat and his skills as a mouser. But cats can’t always be counted on to control the mouse population. That’s where inventors come in to play.

Since the mid 19th century the US Patent and Trademark Office has granted over 4,000 patents for mousetraps. Between 1800-1890 Connecticut inventors were granted 13 patents for their improved mousetraps. The Connecticut patents, granted between 1869 and 1882, were mainly for traps that are usually described as of the “choking” or “snapping” variety. Many of these traps are of a similar design and the patents granted were for slight improvements in design or materials used. One that does stand out however is the trap designed by Henry L. Norton of Middletown Connecticut.

Norton’s trap would entice mice up a couple steps, down a ramp then onto a false floor which would give way under their weight. The mouse is then trapped and disposal is up to the trapper. Norton describes mice as “sly, cautious and always on the alert holding on to some safe place before venturing into any dish which they have suspicion of evil.” He writes of “long and close observation of the habits of mice.” The classic cat and mouse or in this case human and mouse game of deception, trickery and inventiveness would hopefully lead Norton and the thousands of other mousetrap inventors to fame and fortune…….

Rodent control was and is big business. Rodents can destroy crops, property and spread disease. But in a way you do have to admire their determined, crafty manner. I try to tell myself that when they take the bait and run. For now I’ll try traps on occasion but what works best for me is my buddy Eli. Here kitty, kitty……

Update: Sadly Eli passed away to the great mouse catcher hall of fame. Now we have Big Fat Mama. (who’s really more interested in Friskies than mice)

Big Fat Mama


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