Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Zipper Day

29th April 1917

This day in history...The modern zip was patented by Gideon Sundback

Recently this blog has explored and discussed several Massacres and historical and infamous crimes, so I thought it was about time I tackled something less intense and much more menial. Zips. Whilst this sounds like a dull topic, zips are something that most people use everyday and they have probably never thought about its existence or its history. Time to tell the story of Zips...

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In 1851 American inventor of the sewing machine, Elias Howe, received a patent for an 'Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure.' The fact that he made no attempts to market this, cost him the chance to be recognised as the 'Father of the Zip.' This was probably due to the fact that the sewing machine was such a massive success.

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Elias Howe and the Sewing Machine
42 years later, in 1893, American Mr. Whitcomb Judson, inventor of the Pneumatic Street Railway, marketed a 'Clasp Locker', similar to Howe's 'Clothing Closure.' As Judson was the first to market this invention, he was given credit as the 'Inventor of the Zipper.' The 'Clasp Locker' was a complicated hook-and-eye shoe fastener. With help from businessman Colonel Lewis Walker, Judson was able to launch the Universal Fastener Company, in order to manufacture the new device. The 'Clasp Locker' had its first public debut at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair - it had very little commercial success.

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Judson's 1893 patent
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Whitcomb Judson

Swedish electrical engineer, Gideon Sundback, worked for the Universal Fastener Company. His good design skills and his marriage to plant manager's daughter Elvira Aronson, led to Sundback's position as head designer at Universal. His key responsibility was to improve the Judon Fastener. When Sundback's wife died in 1911, Sundback made himself busy in is job role and by December 1913 he had designed the modern zipper. Sundback increased the number of fastening elements and made 2 facing-rows of teeth that pulled together. The patent for the 'Separable Fastener' was issues in 1917. Sundback also created the manufacturing machine for his new zipper, which was able to produce a few hundred feet of fastener a day. 

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Sundback's 1917 patent

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Gideon Sundback

The B. F. Goodrich Company, coined the name 'zipper' when they decided to use Sundback's fastener. Boots and tobacco pouches with a zipped closure were the two main uses of the zipper at the beginning, and it took almost 20 years to convince the fashion industry into promoting the zip. The chief advertising campaign came in the 1930s, which promoted the zipper on children's clothing. The campaign recognised and praised zippers as self-reliance in young children, as they could dress themselves in self-help clothing. Fashion also adopted the zip in 1937 in men's trousers, overtaking the use of buttons.  

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1930's Children's clothing zipper advert
Zippers were also boosted when they progressed to being opened at both ends, mainly on jackets. Thousands of zipper miles are produced daily and they can be seen everywhere; clothing, luggage, pencil cases and a whole variety of conventional and unusual things. Since Sundback's design, there have been many adaptations and types of zips made:
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Different variations of Zippers
  • Coil Zips - Most used zip
  • Invisible Zips -Used in skirts/dresses and emergency services 
  • Reverse coil Zips 
  • Metallic Zips - Found mostly on jeans
  • Plastic-molded Zips 
  • Open-ended Zips 
  • Closed-ended Zips
  • Magnetic Zips - Sportswear
  • Air and Water tight Zips - NASA
  • Anti-slide Lock Zips 
So next time you look at a zip, think about the amount of effort that went into creating such a menial yet extremely useful tool. 

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