Origins of ordinary things: Zippers

A zipper, popularly known as a zip, is one of the most commonly used objects around the world. It’s used on clothes, bags, tents, shoes and several other items to fasten and close up edges.

According to Wikipedia, an encyclopaedia, the first person to make fasteners was Elias Howe, the inventor of the sewing machine. In 1851, Howe received a patent for an Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure which involved the use of metal clasps to connect two edges. However, he didn’t market the product since he was concentrating on the sewing machine which had received commercial success.

Whitcomb L. Judson, an American inventor, successfully picked up the idea of making fasteners 40 years later. In 1893, he made a device called a Clasp Locker and thereafter started the Universal Fastener Company. This is according to the web-based History of Jeans.

In 1906 a Swedish American electrical engineer called Gideon Sundback was hired into Judson’s company and made head designer. Seven years later, Sundback registered a patent for an improved design of the fastener which he called the “Separable Fastener”.  According to Idea Finder, an information dissemination platform, the patent was issued in 1917.

Although Sundback made what is now known as the zipper, the name was brought forth by an American fastener manufacturing establishment called B.F. Goodrich Company. In 1923, the company used Sundback’s fastener on rubber boots and registered it as a zipper in 1925. According to ThoughtCo, an online knowledge resource, for a while, zippers were only used on boot and tobacco pouches. This was until a clothing company used them on leather jackets.

During the 1930’s, the zipper was marketed to parents as a device which was easy to use and would, therefore, help children become more self-reliant in dressing up. This is according to The Inventor, an online knowledge resource on inventions.

In 1937, during the “Battle of the Fly”, the zipper defeated the button. The zipper was praised because it was less likely to come undone and cause embarrassment to the wearer.

There haven’t been a lot of changes in the core make of the zipper since it was first patented by Sundback. According to the website How Products Are Made, most of the tweaks have been made in design. For instance, manufacturers now make zippers that are deeply lodged into fabric that they almost don’t show on the outside. Others have made the kind of zippers which can be opened or closed from either end. 

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