The History of the
It was a long way up for the humble Zipper, the mechanical wonder that has
kept so much in our lives 'together.' On its way up the zipper has passed
through the hands of several dedicated inventors, none convinced the general
public to accept the zipper as part of everyday costume. The fashion
industry made the novel zipper the popular item that it is today, but it
happened nearly hundred years after the zipper's first appearance.
Elias Howe, who invented the sewing machine received a patent in 1851 for
an 'Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure.' Perhaps it was the success of
the sewing machine, which caused Elias not to pursue marketing his clothing
closure. As a result, Howe missed his chance to become the recognized
'Father of the Zip.' Forty-four years later, Mr. Whitcomb Judson (who also
invented the 'Pneumatic Street Railway') marketed a 'Clasp Locker' a device
similar to the 1851, Howe patent. Being first to market gave Whitcomb the
credit of being the 'Inventor of the Zipper', but his 1893 patent did not
use the word zipper. The Chicago inventor's 'Clasp Locker' was a complicated
hook-and-eye shoe fastener. Together with businessman Colonel Lewis Walker,
Whitcomb launched the Universal Fastener Company to manufacture the new.
View the original 1917 Sundback patent for the "Separable
The first popular 'Zipper' name came from the B. F. Goodrich Company, when
they decided to use Gideon's fastener on a new type of rubber boots and
renamed the device the Zipper, the name that lasted. Boots and tobacco
pouches with a zippered closure were the two chief uses of the zipper during
its early years. It took twenty more years to convince the fashion industry
to seriously promote the novel closure on garments.
In the 1930s, a sales campaign began for children's clothing
featuring zippers. The campaign praised zippers for promoting self-reliance
in young children by making it possible for them to dress in self-help
clothing. The zipper beat the button in the 1937 in the "Battle of the
Fly " when French fashion designers raved over zippers in men's
trousers. Esquire magazine declared the zipper the "Newest Tailoring
Idea for Men" and among the zippered fly's many virtues was that it
would exclude "The Possibility of Unintentional and Embarrassing
Disarray." Obviously, the new zippered trouser owners had not yet
discovered the experience of forgetting to zip-up.
The next big boost for the zipper came when zippers could open on both
ends, as on jackets. Today the zipper is everywhere, in clothing, luggage
and leather goods and countless other objects. Thousands of zipper miles
produced daily, meet the needs of consumers, thanks to the early efforts of
the many famous zipper inventors.
Whitcomb Judson Gideon
ZIPPER Invention came about because of a stiff
Whitcomb L. Judson loved machines and experimented
with many different kinds of gadgets. He invented a number of labor-saving
items, including the zipper. It came about because of a friends stiff
The problem was that his friend could not do up his shoes. Judson came up
with a slide fastener that could be opened or closed with one hand.
This was an absolutely new idea, and in a few weeks Judson had a working
model. On August 29, 1893, he patented his new "hookless fastener."
The earliest zip fasteners were being used in the apparel industry by 1905,
but they weren't considered practical until after an improved version was
developed by Gideon Sundback, a Swedish scientest working in the United
States. When the B. F. Goodrich Company decided to market galoshes with
hookless fasteners, the product became popular. These new galoshes could be
fastened with a single zip of the hand, and soon hookless fasteners came to
be called "Zippers" . By the 1920s, zippers were widespread use in
clothing, luggage, and many other applications.
Points To Ponder - The House That Innovation
Zippers, Nylons, Coat Hangers, Ear Muffs and Safety
In 1893, Whitcomb Judson, a Chicago inventor with dozens of patents,
attempted to invent a replacement for the lengthy shoelaces used to fasten
mens and womens boots. On August 29, 1893, Judson received a
patent for his "clasp-locker," a somewhat reliable hook and eye
fastener. That same year, he displayed his innovative closure at the Chicago
Worlds Fair. Despite improvements, Universal Fastener--the company he
formed with his associate, Lewis Walker--was never successful at marketing
Gideon Sundbach, a Swedish immigrant trained in electrical engineering and
an employee of Universal Fastener, further refined Judsons closure,
but it still had problems. Grief stricken at the death of his wife, Sundbach
set to work and by December of 1913 had designed a successful Zipper that is
virtually the same today.
During World War I the U.S. Army used the closure in uniforms and gear. In
1923, B.F. Goodrich marketed galoshes with the fastener and christened the
invention the "zipper," taking the name from the "ZIP"
sound it made when opened or closed. By the end of the 1920s, zippers were
used in articles of clothing, footwear, and carrying cases. In 1933, it was
still viewed as the "newest tailoring idea for men" replacing the
In 1914, Gideon Sundbachs machines were turning out a few hundred
feet of zippers a day. Today there are about 100 new Zippers a year in the
average Americans life and in Macon, Georgia, YKK -the largest zipper
manufacturer in the world, produces 2000 miles of zippers each day.
In 1930, Wallace Hume Carothers, Julian Hill, and other researchers for the
DuPont Company studied chains of molecules called polymers, in an attempt to
find a substitute for silk. Pulling a heated rod from a beaker containing
carbon- and alcohol-based molecules, they found the mixture stretched and,
at room temperature, had a silky texture. This work culminated in the
production of nylon marking the beginning of a new era in synthetic fibers.
Nylon was first used for fishing line, surgical sutures, and toothbrush
bristles. DuPont touted its new fiber as being "as strong as steel, as
fine as a spiders web," and introduced nylon and nylon stockings
to the American public at the New York Worlds Fair in 1939. In fact,
the "ny" in nylon is for New York. The first year on the market,
DuPont sold 64 million pairs of stockings. That same year, nylon appeared in
the movie,"The Wizard of Oz," where it was used to create the
tornado that carried Dorothy to the Emerald City.
In 1942, nylon went to war in the form of parachutes and tents. Nylon
stockings were the favorite gift of American soldiers to impress British
women. Nylon stockings were scarce in America until the end of World War II,
but returned with a vengeance. Shoppers crowded stores, and in San
Francisco, one store was forced to halt stocking sales when it was mobbed by
10,000 anxious shoppers.
In 1959, Glen Raven Mills of North Carolina introduced panty hose,
underpants and stockings all in one garment. With the addition of an opaque
nylon top, this eliminated the need for multiple "foundation"
garments. In 1965, they developed a seamless version that coincided with the
introduction of the miniskirt. Today, nylon is still used in all types of
apparel and is the second most used synthetic fiber in the United States.
Chester Greenwood was born in Farmington, Maine in 1858. A grammar school
dropout, he invented earmuffs at the age of 15. While testing a new pair of
ice skates, he grew frustrated at trying to protect his ears from the bitter
cold. After wrapping his head in a scarf, which was too bulky and itchy, he
made two ear-shaped loops from wire and asked his grandmother to sew fur on
them. He patented an improved model with a steel band which held them in
place and with Greenwoods Champion Ear Protectors, he established
Greenwoods Ear Protector Factory. He made a fortune supplying Ear
Protectors to U.S. soldiers during World War I. He went on to patent more
than 10 other inventions. In 1977, Maines legislature declared
December 21 "Chester Greenwood Day" to honor a native son and his
contribution to cold weather protection.
Todays wire coat hanger was inspired by a clothes hook patented in
1869, by O. A. North of New Britain, Connecticut.
Albert J. Parkhouse, an employee of Timberlake Wire and Novelty Company in
Jackson, Michigan, created a coat hanger in 1903, in response to co-workers
complaints of too few coat hooks. He bent a piece of wire into two ovals
with the ends twisted together to form a hook. Parkhouse patented his
invention, but it is not known if he profited from it.
Schuyler C. Hulett received a patent in 1932 for an improvement which
involved cardboard tubes screwed onto the upper and lower portions to
prevent wrinkles in freshly laundered clothes.
Three years later Elmer D Rogers created a hanger with a tube on the lower
bar which is still used today.
Safety pins, remarkably similar to those that we use today, go back as far
as the Bronze Age, but the modern day version was "reinvented" in
1825, and patented in 1849, by Walter Hunt of New York. He created its basic
appearance in a little under 3 hours. Because he needed to pay off a $15
debt, he sold his patent rights for a lot less than the millions they were
worth. The amount varies from $100 to $400 but this was not the first time
he failed to hit the jackpot. In 1832, he invented the first lock-stitch
sewing machine but didnt apply for a patent because his daughter
convinced him his invention would put seamstresses out of work. When he did
apply for a patent in 1854, he found that a gentleman by the name of Elias
Howe was already successful with a similar machine. Hunt also invented a
repeating rifle, a nail making machine, a dry dock, a paper collar, and a
metal bullet with an explosive charge and also the worlds first ZIPPER.