This homemade mousetrap was found in a home in Amityville, New York and donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1891. Since the U.S. Patent Office was formally established in 1838, it has granted more than forty-four hundred mousetrap patents, more than any other invention. John Mast heeded Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice to, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” and in 1899 built the more familiar snap trap which received its patent in 1903. Simple and effective, Mast’s trap is the best-selling mousetrap of all time. However, inventors are still attempting to improve upon Mast’s design--the Patent Office grants about 40 patents for mousetraps a year, and it receives almost ten times as many patent requests!
The simple mousetrap is a testament to American ingenuity. Inventors and innovators have sought to deal with the mice in different ways — some traps are “beheaders,” some “imprisoners,” and some are “mashers.” No matter the design, the mousetrap has an undeniable grasp on the American imagination, with board games, gambling apparatus, and even movies being based on this pervasive mammal and the attempts to capture it.
Currently not on view
Object Name
date made
early 19th century
Physical Description
wood (overall material)
iron (overall material)
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Domestic Furnishings
Industry & Manufacturing
Artifact Walls exhibit
See more items in
Home and Community Life: Domestic Life
Artifact Walls exhibit
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center

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