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Pullinger Mousetrap

By George Murphy

The mouse trap is a hollow wooden box containing a seesaw to trap the mice. The traps were made of beech wood most probably sourced from the Goodwood estate belonging to the Duke of Richmond. This is according to David Drummond who wrote several articles on Colin Pullinger. The brand name 'Colin Pullinger & Son's' is still visible on the side sticker along with Pullinger's description of his product. This company was continued by his son, Charles Pullinger, until it closed in 1920. It was designed to be the new humane method of catching mice, which Pullinger used to stress a lot. The label on the side of the trap also describes the awards given to the humane mouse trap such as and honourable mention in the International Exhibition for the prevention of cruelty to animals. It could be used multiple times and needed little effort from the owner.

Colin Pullinger sold 2 million traps by 1885 each selling for half a crown (12p). Pullinger claimed that he caught 28 mice in one night and nearly 1000 mice in 9 months. It also didn't hurt mice in any way. The mouse will smell the bait and will crawl into the dip in the centre which will be at ground level. Here there is a seesaw that tips the mouse into one cage. The seesaw has then closed so the mouse is trapped and the other side is ready for another mouse.

"In his perpetual mouse trap Colin neatly solved the problem of closing the door behind the incoming mouse and opening it again for the next one, by providing holding compartments at each end of the trap and a single seesaw between them. The door itself was simply a projection above the centre of the seesaw, that closed off one end of the trap and left the other end open." David Drummond - an author specialising in the History of West Sussex, taken from his book -'British mouse traps'.

The perpetual mouse trap was invented by Colin Pullinger, who lived in Selsey and was born in 1814. He inherited his father carpentry business in 1847, yet Colin Pullinger was known under many professions including: fisherman, joiner, undertaker, boat builder, land measurer, repairer of clocks and keys, inventor and more; all of which were recorded on his business card or his adverts. For a while he was also a seaman.

"It was probably at this time too that Colin began to invent and make items that stemmed largely from his experiences as a seaman and farmer. In particular his improved agricultural implements (horse, hoe, scarifier, couch grass rake) and vermin traps for moles rats and mice were clearly stimulated by the need to solve his own practical farming problems. Moreover his carpentry skills and facilities would have allowed him to make, test out and further develop his own inventions. Judging from his trade card, produced some time later, he was very proud of his inventions, as well as the incredible number of functions he apparently performed, or at least had performed, at some stage during his career."

"Unfortunately we have no knowledge about the success of his inventions, except for that of the perpetual mouse trap."

"It was not until July 1860 that Colin Pullinger, already in his late forties, was revealed as the inventor of a new type of mouse trap. His wholesaler advertised it as 'Pullinger's Registered Automaton Mouse-trap and specially drew attention to its agricultural potential; 'one farmer caught nearly 1,000 mice in one trap, in nine months. Can be placed in a stack by removing one sheaf of corn." DavidDrummond

The Pullinger factory known as 'The Inventive Factory' is now the Selsey Town Council Offices The factory had horse-powered machinery which helped them to cut the wood to size. When he started inventing those he showed it to thought little of his inventions. The only other recorded invention of Pullinger's is the Gem knife cleaner, a machine used to polish knives which sold for a guinea (252p) however this did not sell as well as his mouse trap that was the focus of his inventing business.

At one point Pullinger had around 40 people under his employment making him the biggest employer in Selsey at the time. They could make a trap in less than five minutes and 960 a week. They were sold all around the world. After Pullinger's death in 1894, the invention of the 'one penny back breaker' (also known as the 'nipper') caused the sale of the perpetual mousetrap to dwindle. The nipper, developed by James Henry Atkinson, is the modern stereotypical idea of a mouse trap with a wooden block and spring. They could close in less than 38/1000th of a second.

Rodents such as mice have been pests to mankind since we lived in caves. People have been set on the ideal way of catching mice which catches the most possible with the least energy. Over the years many different mousetrap have been invented with varying successes. Since the US Patent Office opened in 1838, almost 5,000 mousetraps have been patented in 40 different subclasses, these include swinging triker, electrocuting an even explosive.

Early methods of catching mice were probably just holes in the ground but soon people stared to put pots in the ground so that the mouse could crawl out. These however lacked any bait to attract the mice. People then started putting bait in high positions and when mice would crawl across thin wires to get to it the mice would fall into buckets left there by the humans. This idea was first recorded by Leonard Mascall in the 16th century but was quite complicated.

Another idea was the dead fall mouse trap, which was made from oak wood as it is very dense. When a mouse went into the mouse trap, they would trigger a large oak block to fall on it. These would have been the most used before the perpetual mouse traps because they could be used repeatedly with ease.

More modern methods included using a powerful spring to lethally wound the mouse however these can only be once therefore can be considered less efficient.