When Were Nail Clippers Invented? Prepare to be Shocked

nail clippers invention

The nail clippers we know today are a modern invention patented around 1875, but it’s unclear when and by whom the modern nail clippers were invented. Throughout human history, people have used a number of various tools to perform this rudimentary task – though admittedly without such clean, convenient, or hygienic  results as the clippers we know today.

Read on to learn more about the unique history of the invention of nail clippers, how people trimmed their nails before they were invented and who invented the nail clippers. 


Who Invented Nail Clippers? 

Toenails vs Fingernails

While it’s unclear when were nail clippers invented, we do know that they were first patented in 1875 by Valentine Fogerty. Fogerty’s inventions were quite different in appearance and design than the fingernail clippers we know today – the device resembled a circular nail file and didn’t clip nails the way modern trimmers do. 

However, Fogerty’s new patented device was different than previous files and blades in that it introduced the concept of placing the overgrown fingernail inside the cavity where it would be clipped with a blade instead of filed or cut like previous options. 

The first clamp-style nail trimmers were patented in 1881 by Eugene Heim and Oelestin Matz. In the years that followed, many other inventors would go on to design their own nail clippers (the Zwilling Henckels Nail Clippers is an example). These inventors included John Hollman, George Coates, William Edge, and Chapel Carter. 

The first nail clipper made from modern manufacturing methods was created by the W.E. Bassett company, which designed artillery during World War II.

Bassett’s clippers used the jaw design, which locked the lateral blade when closed and a thumb-swerve. The design was called Trim nail cutters. Trim and Gem were the two primary brands that first arrived on mainstream store shelves. Later, W.E. Bassett created another clipper, Croydon, which was marketed to the upper class alongside the jewelry market. 

Today, nail clippers are so widely used that any patents to their various designs have faded into obscurity. There are only so many ways to cut nails, so there isn’t really anything new inventors can add to this simple but necessary and convenient device, like the best nail clippers for men and women available in the market.

Recent nail clipper variations have emerged in recent years, including:

  • Nail clippers for babies and children – these are smaller, lighter, and come with a safety feature that makes it easier to avoid clipping skin
  • Extenders for toenail clippers – for the elderly and others with mobility issues who can’t reach their toes
  • Nail clippers for pets – dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and other pets require regular nail clipping


How did People Cut Their Nails Before Nail Clippers were Invented? 

Toenails vs Fingernails

While modern day nail clippers with the included file and compound levers are a relatively new invention, the concept of trimming one’s nails as part of regular hygiene  is not. Ancient peoples even had nail polish, with Cleopatra reportedly polishing her fingernails red – a bold move that communicated her high status. 

Most people before the 20th century would trim their nails with small knives. When people would trim their nails, they would call it paring – and thus, the term “paring knife” was coined. These small, sharp knives with blades that are easy to maneuver  were commonly used for nail trimming. 

The practice of nail clipping is shrouded in superstition. In the late 1880s, it was once believed that trimming one’s nails on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays would bring misfortune.   

Historic documents are littered with references to nail trimming, including in the Book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament and in Horace’s Epistles, which is dated around 20 BC. 


How did Ancient People Cut their Nails? 

Toenails vs Fingernails

You might be wondering how did people cut their nails before nail clippers?  The first known nail clippers date back to the days of ancient Rome. These clippers were made of bronze, and they resemble simplistic modern-day nail clippers with sharpened edges between which the overlong fingernail would be placed. Pressure would be placed above and below the device to exert enough pressure to cut the nail.

In the Middle Ages, people used small shears that resemble yarn cutters. If these shears were unavailable, then small, ordinary blades were undoubtedly used. Those who performed hard labor, such as peasants, were unable to grow long nails due to the manner of their work, and excess nail growth would break off before the nails got too long. 

In ancient China, one’s fingernail length was often associated with their class status. Because those who performed hard labor for a living would break off excess nail growth during their difficult work, long nails were seen as a sign of the wealthy. 

Before iron and steel were commonly available, it is believed that bronze blades were used to trim one’s nails. Ancient Roman nail clippers were made of bronze. 


How did Cavemen Cut their Nails? 

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the detailed hygiene regimens of the paleolithic peoples, it can be assumed that they were quite skilled with what they had. 

Cavemen didn’t need to trim their toenails because walking around barefoot regularly wore down their nails without any need for trimming. It can be assumed that the same situation applied to their fingernails. Since the paleolithic peoples labored with their hands for survival, it can be assumed that any excess fingernail growth would – like their toenails – break off before becoming too long. 

If their nails did become too long for any reason, the paleolithic peoples worked extensively with stone, and might have learned how to file down their nails with this plentiful resource. 


Ancient Nail Clippers: What did They Look Like?

Toenails vs Fingernails

Today, nail clippers are sleek modern inventions made of stainless steel, plastic, or aluminum. They usually come with a small file to manicure the rough edges of trimmed fingernails and some even come with a nail catcher to contain the trimmings. 

But what did ancient nail trimmers look like?

Ancient Roman nail clippers look a lot like modern day nail clippers, just a much simpler version made of bronze. Clippers from the Middle Ages resembled shears used for cutting yarn.

Other than these, nail clippers were mainly small knives with handles of bone or wood with bronze or iron blades. Materials would vary depending on the region and the wealth of those who owned the clippers. 

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