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A Better Mousetrap
In a nation of inventors it has always been the single most invented thing. At this very moment hundreds of Americans are busy obeying Emerson’s famous dictum—even though the machine he exhorted them to build has existed in near-transcendental perfection for almost a century.
October 1996 | Volume 47, Issue 6
Despite its drawbacks, though, the new trap works. According to Wood-stream, field trials conducted at, among other places, the nearby let Age Swine Farm, have found that it catches 18 percent more mice than the traditional snap trap. More telling, if the company’s claims can be believed, household sales of the Easy-Set have grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade and are projected to exceed those of the John Mast snap trap by the year 2001.
But what does this portend for the future of mousetrap invention and, more important, for the future of American mousetrap inventors? Likely nothing. As we already know, no fewer mousetraps are being patented every year since the 1986 advent of Woodstream’s Easy-Set than there were in 1954 or 1928 or 1872. The quiet, inconspicuous souls who continue to ply the mousetrap inventor’s trade do so with a conviction and determination unknown to most of us, and they are not about to be deterred by something as ephemeral as the market success of an Easy-Set.
Which is as it should be. And, assuming for the moment that Emerson said and meant precisely what most mousetrap inventors believe he said and meant, it is clear that the philosopher had the welfare of the everyday American in mind. He did not say, after all, “Build a better reciprocating steam engine, and the world will beat a path to your door.” He prescribed instead a purely populist and accessible invention that any of us could create, that would fill our evening hours with engaging activity, and that would surely help keep mischief off the streets.