Who Invented Scissors?

DIY Tassel Scissor Charm
DIY Tassel Scissor Charm.

Mollie Johanson

Leonardo da Vinci has often been credited with inventing scissors—he used the device for cutting canvas—but the household tool predates his lifetime by many centuries. Nowadays, it’s hard to find a household that doesn’t have at least one pair.

Ancient Scissors

The ancient Egyptians used a version of scissors as long ago as 1500 B.C. They were a single piece of metal, typically bronze, fashioned into two blades that were controlled by a metal strip. The strip kept the blades apart until they were squeezed. Each blade was a scissor. Collectively, the blades were scissors, or so rumor has it. Through trade and adventure, the device eventually spread beyond Egypt to other parts of the world.

The Romans adapted the Egyptians' design in 100 A.D., creating pivoted or cross-blade scissors that were more in line with what we have today. The Romans also used bronze, but they sometimes made their scissors from iron as well. Roman scissors had two blades that slid past each other. The pivot was situated between the tip and the handles to create a cutting effect between the two blades when they were applied to various properties. Both Egyptian and Roman versions of scissors had to be sharpened regularly.

Scissors Enter the 18th Century

Although the actual inventor of scissors is hard to identify, Robert Hinchliffe, of Sheffield, England, should be rightfully acknowledged as the father of modern scissors. He was the first to use steel to manufacture and mass-produce them in 1761—more than 200 years after da Vinci’s death.

Pinking shears were invented and patented in 1893 by Louise Austin of Whatcom, Washington. As Austin noted in his patent application, which was granted on Jan. 1, 1893:

"With my improved pinking scissors or shears, the pinking or scalloping can always be made uniform and in line; and it is performed by cutting continuously through the fabric from end to end or edge to edge; thus the Work is very rapidly done, and, Where the fabric is severed, two scalloped edges will be produced at the same operation."

Scissors in Print

Scissors have been mentioned in print over the years. In "Emar, Capital of Aštata in the Fourteenth Century BCE," a 1995 article published in the journal The Biblical Archaeologist, authors Jean-Claude Margueron and Veronica Boutte included this passage:

"Besides ceramics, occasionally collected in large quantities, the houses produced stone and metallic objects illustrating both day-to-day needs and the activities of city merchants: beer filters, containers, arrow and javelin heads, scales of armor, needles and scissors, long nails, bronze scrapers, millstones, mortars, many kinds of grindstones, pestles, various tools and stone rings."

And in an entire book describing the history of the cutting tool, called, appropriately, "A Story of Shears and Scissors: 1848–1948," author Don Wiss described the history of the implement:

"Egyptian bronze shears of the Third Century B.C., a unique object of art. Showing Greek influence although with decoration characteristic of Nile culture, the shears are illustrative of the high degree of craftsmanship which developed in the period following Alexander's conquest of Egypt. Decorative male and female figures, which complement each other on each blade, are formed by solid pieces of metal of a different color inlaid in the bronze shears.
"Sir Flinders Petrie ascribes the development of cross-bladed shears to the First Century. In the Fifth Century, the scribe Isidore of Seville describes cross-bladed shears or scissors with a center pivot as tools of the barber and tailor."

Folklore and Superstition

More than one expectant mother has placed a pair of scissors beneath her pillow at night somewhere toward the end of her ninth month of pregnancy. Superstition says that this will “cut the cord” with her baby and prompt labor.

And here's another tall tale: Don’t hand those scissors to your best friend. Place them on any available surface and let your friend pick them up. Otherwise, you risk severing your relationship. Some say that those scissors languishing in your catch-it-all drawer can help keep evil spirits out of your home. Hang them by one handle near your door so they form a version of a cross. 


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Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "Who Invented Scissors?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 24, 2021, thoughtco.com/who-invented-scissors-4070946. Bellis, Mary. (2021, January 24). Who Invented Scissors? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/who-invented-scissors-4070946 Bellis, Mary. "Who Invented Scissors?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/who-invented-scissors-4070946 (accessed March 29, 2023).