A better mousetrap just in time
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, April 5, 2012

"Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door."

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

Along with many people, I've often repeated this Emerson quote; it applies to many areas of discussion, especially to the magic of capitalism, which rewards innovation.

Just found out, though, that this is not what Emerson said. Here is the real quote:

"If a man has good corn or wood, or boards, or pigs, to sell, or can make better chairs or knives, crucibles or church organs, than anybody else, you will find a broad hard-beaten road to his house, though it be in the woods."

Some say that he later updated this to:

"If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor," etc.

But this variation first showed up seven years after his death, so someone probably just used his famous name for the update. People do this all the time on the Internet, attributing their own political thoughts to someone famous — often Andy Rooney or Bill Cosby — to give the thoughts more credibility. This makes me crazy, as many people who send me these things have learned. I see it as a kind of identity theft, even if, as my correspondents tell me, the famous person could or should have said this.

But that's not what I set out to write about today. I just wanted to write a better column about a better mousetrap, in case you need one, and to share the happy reminder that better things are being invented all the time.


Like many of my life's stories, this one starts with the books I read as a child. Cinderella made friends with two mice, Jacques and Gus-Gus, at her hearthside. I think they were in the original Disney movie, too. (Guys may be more familiar with the smart mouse in the "Tom and Jerry" cartoons).

I'm sure I'm not the only woman who, having read "Cinderella," can't kill a mouse in the house. However, for some reason I didn't develop an antipathy toward the big cat (Lucifer) that didn’t get along with Jacques and Gus-Gus; I now have such a cat. He practices "catch and release" — bringing mice through two kitty doors, one onto the screened porch, then one into the living room. After he releases them, they scamper off into some unreachable corner of my cluttered house.

I'm not going into what happens when that unreachable corner is my gas range or the refrigerator, and the mouse dies there. Usually little Jacques isn't injured, but lives behind a piece of furniture until I can coax him into a wastebasket and take him back outside. This doesn't work often enough to qualify as "a better mousetrap" though.

Last month, the latest mouse found his way to the basement, which the cat often visits, so I had to keep the cellar door tightly closed. Then every night I filled a little water dish and set out some of the peanuts that I feed the squirrels. In the morning, the nuts would be gone, so I knew Gus-Gus was still in residence.

When the weather turned warm, I opened the bulkhead door at night, placed a loose screen inside it so the skunk (Bambi's friend Flower); rabbit (Bambi's friend Thumper, Uncle Wiggly or Peter from Mr. McGregor's garden); possum (no sentimental attachment); and other nightlife that visit our yard couldn't enter. All I need is a raccoon or coyote in the basement!

I think the mouse probably did go out, but then of course came back to where he'd gotten peanuts. This really wasn't a problem, I thought, until someone told me about the damage he could do if he got into my wiring.

Chip Ford, who lives next door, offered me one of his snappy mousetraps. Geez, if I wanted a dead Jacques or Jerry, I'd let the cat into the basement, where there are few places for a mouse to hide.

So Chip brought me a "live trap" that he found at Ace Hardware. It was this little, gray, plastic box with a hood that would gently close behind any mouse that went in after the cheese it contained.

I doubted that my mouse was that dumb. But I set the trap with a small chunk of imported-from-Ireland Red Leicester cheddar, left over from St. Patrick's Day; and to my astonishment, Gus-Gus was inside the next morning! At first glance, I saw a tiny tail near the air gate, but when I took the trap outside and opened it, he had turned around and was looking at me with big frightened eyes.

I released him in a wooded corner of the yard, left some water and peanuts nearby, and now assume he is living happily ever after somewhere the cat can't reach, because he hasn't been returned to the living room.

So, Mr. Emerson or whoever: Someone did build a better mousetrap. The Live Catch! brand is manufactured by Victor, and I for one (and Gus-Gus, for another) hope the world is beating a path to Victor's door.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle Tribune newspapers; bi-weekly in the Tinytown Gazette.

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