Posted by: Didapper PJ13 FEB 2013
If you believe everything you see on the television or read on dodgy websites, you will know that Sir Isaac Newton’s major claim to fame is his invention of the cat-flap in 1700.
Newton owned a cat called Spithead, which allegedly had a habit of nudging open the door of her master’s darkened attic laboratory, thereby letting in daylight to ruin his optical experiments. Newton responded to this inconvenience by cutting a cat-sized hole in the door and hanging over it a black velvet cloth to keep out the light.
It is also claimed that when Spithead had kittens, Newton made them a smaller cat-flap, thus allowing people to ridicule him for not realising that the kittens could use the original hole (although it may be that Spithead’s cat-flap was too high or too heavy for her young ones to use).
However, there is not a single reliable source for these tales. And the Newtonian cat-flap is such a simple device that it is hard to believe it was not invented centuries earlier. In any case, the ruined experiment theory seems to be rubbish, since Newton’s research did not involve any photosensitive materials. Any feline disturbance would have been minimal.
However, whether or not Newton invented it, the cat-flap has come a long way since 1700. Modern moggy doors can be programmed to allow cats to go in or out, or in but not out, or out but not in, or neither in nor out. And a microchip in your pet’s collar, or implanted under its skin, can ensure that only your own puss can operate the cat-flap, so that the neighbourhood fleabags cannot invade your home.
Incidentally, the idea that it was falling apple that awakened Newton to the concept of gravity is as hard to believe as the cat-flap story. He might just as well have “invented” gravity — and even his third law of motion, too — after noticing the way Spithead’s cat-flap fell back into position once she had passed through.