This is a double spring, wrought iron animal trap likely used to trap beaver around 1810-1830 or earlier. Baited with the musk oil of beaver, the trap would have been set in bodies of water near beaver dams. The weights on the base of the trap served to anchor it underwater, resulting in the demise of the trapped animal.
Fur trading was the principal business in the Old Northwest, the vast area between the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River and the Ohio River, or what are now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota. The trade was fueled by demand for beaver hats and pelts, and trappers were especially active in the winter months when the animals’ fur was thickest and therefore most desirable. Trappers purchased steel traps, or the iron to make them, at trading posts.
This animal trap was part of a collection of objects donated to the Smithsonian by Wittenberg College in Springfield, Ohio, in 1937. The donation consisted of material collected by Major George Kaiser Sanderson, a career U.S. Army officer.