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Other Patent Points To Ponder
A Patent for a President
Fingerprints of Commerce
The Art of Toys
Three Part Harmony
The Art of Photography
The House That Innovation Built
Colors of Innovation
Mothers of Invention
The History of the Zipper
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 Fastener"

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 1930’s, 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 JudsonGideon Sundback
Whitcomb Judson             Gideon Sundback

ZIPPER Invention came about because of a stiff back
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 friend’s stiff back.

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 Built
Zippers, Nylons, Coat Hangers, Ear Muffs and Safety Pins

In 1893, Whitcomb Judson, a Chicago inventor with dozens of patents, attempted to invent a replacement for the lengthy shoelaces used to fasten men’s and women’s 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 World’s Fair. Despite improvements, Universal Fastener--the company he formed with his associate, Lewis Walker--was never successful at marketing his invention.

Gideon Sundbach, a Swedish immigrant trained in electrical engineering and an employee of Universal Fastener, further refined Judson’s 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 button fly.

In 1914, Gideon Sundbach’s machines were turning out a few hundred feet of zippers a day. Today there are about 100 new Zippers a year in the average American’s 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 spider’s web," and introduced nylon and nylon stockings to the American public at the New York World’s 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 Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors, he established Greenwood’s 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, Maine’s legislature declared December 21 "Chester Greenwood Day" to honor a native son and his contribution to cold weather protection.

Today’s 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 didn’t 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.

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