There are some products that don’t need to advertise. In the case of the mouse trap, the need is obvious. I have never been out at Meijer and bought a case of mouse traps on impulse. That doesn’t mean that trap makers don’t need to compete for my business – traps can have be sticky, electrified, rat-sized, live-catch, and even one-time-use (for the germ conscious rodent exterminator).
As a manufactured product, the modern mouse trap is one of the most identifiable devices ever produced. The classic spring-loaded device clearly has only one purpose – the killing of small rodents. It was invented in 1897 and originally called the “little nipper” by its inventor, William C. Hooker.
In American history, the mouse trap may be the most frequently invented device. Between 1838 and 1996 over 4,400 patents were issued for mouse trap technologies. (That is roughly one every two weeks for 158 years!) It is safe to say that many of these inventors never profited from their wonderful ideas on how to catch mice – however they did leave behind a wealth of great drawings and models to describe how their unique inventions worked.
In the digital age, templates for do-it-yourself mouse traps are easy to find – such as this trap that uses a nickel and a glass jar. With the thousands of possible devices to capture and kill mice now accessible after a few keystrokes, will the mouse trap industry be able to compete against dozes of free ideas? I struggle to imagine a world where cheap, disposable, traps are unnecessary.
The mouse trap has proven its ability to rid our home environments of undesirable creatures. Could traps be used in bigger contexts? For instance, the wildlife of the Florida Everglades are currently being consumed indiscriminately by Burmese Pythons. Nobody gets a rush from hunting snakes, and there is no market for snake products – so it would seem like trapping the snakes could be an appealing way to rid the wetlands of this invasive species.
Any trap is essentially a one way door that may kill, disable, or immobilize its victim. The value is that a trap only needs to be set once, waiting for the unwitting creature to pass the point-of-no-return. The danger is that things other than the desired pest could be caught. Perhaps one of the merits of Hooker’s trap is the clear potential danger to small pets and children – a visceral warning to provide guidance on its placement and intent.
PS - Teddy Wayne inspired me to write about Mouse Traps.
PPS – Ralph Waldo Emerson never said, “Build a better mouse trap, and the world will beat a path to your door.”