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The Mining Co. offers an excellent overview of the zipper's history.  Includes a scan of the original zipper patent.

If you want to learn more about the history of Zippers (and other related items) check out the great book: Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things by Charles Panati (1987 - Harper and Row).

Be sure to check out the Summer, 1994 issue of American Heritage of Invention and Technology for a detailed cover story on zippers. The photographs on this web page are scanned from this article.

Hey! Your fly is open!

The zipper was patented on August 29, 1893 (remember that date - it may show up on the exam I'm giving you next week) by Whitcomb Judson, a Chicago mechanical engineer. 

One big problem - it didn't work. Not only did it not work, but no one wanted it, either. Judson displayed it at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair to a potential audience of 20 million people. 

How many did he sell? Twenty. Not enough to retire on. All to the U. S. Postal Service to close their mailbags. 

In 1913, a new guy, Gideon Sundback, produced a better model - the modern zipper (its only drawback was that it rusted closed after washing). His first order went to the U. S. Army for clothing and equipment (after all, WWI was going on). 

It may seem obvious to us today, but people couldn't figure out how to use the zipper. It actually came with directions. (Something like - make sure your private parts are not hanging out and pull up?) 

Still, no one wanted them. 

Along comes the savior - B. F. Goodrich himself. In 1923, good old B.F. (as those of us close to him called him) ordered 150,000 of them for his new product - rubber galoshes. 

Until this point, they were called hookless fasteners. B. F. liked the z-z-zip sound they made and coined the term zipper. 

The rest is zipper history - until 1948. 

In 1948, a Swiss mountaineer named George de Mestral was walking through the woods and was very frustrated by the burs that clung to his clothes. While picking them off, he realized that it may be possible to use this principle to make a fastener to compete with the zipper. 

Everyone laughed at him, except for a weaver at a textile plant in France. 

Together, they designed what they called "locking tape". It was made from cotton. 

The biggest problem that they faced was mass producing it. Sophisticated equipment was needed. He searched for a solution. Accidently, de Mestral discovered that nylon, when sewn under infrared light, formed indestructible hooks, and the design was finished. 

Next problem - the name. Somehow 'hookless fastener' or 'locking tape' did not seem right. If I were there, I would have suggested a name like 'man made bur tape that sticks to the other side and fastens things together' - a much catchier name. 

He liked the sound of "vel" from velvet and "cro" from the French word crochet (meaning hook). And the name VelcroŽ stuck, just like those annoying burs. (their legal department wants you to know that Velcro is a trademarked name of Velcro USA and not a generic name - in other words, they don't make the imitation hook and loop fasteners - they make the original, high quality stuff) 

By the end of the 1950's, textile looms were churning out sixty million yards of this stuff a year. Just think how much they make today. 

Here's an idea for a new product - VelcroŽ (again, Velcro is a registered trademark for Velcro USA's brand of hook and loop fasteners) patches glued to the mouths of people that seem to never shut up. May work.... 

By the way, VelcroŽ (and yet again, Velcro is a registered trademark for - you know who - Velcro USA - don't confuse them with the cheap imitation hook and loop fasteners ) has a major problem - the name has become generic. Any day now the U. S. Courts are going to tell them that they no longer have exclusive rights to the trademark any more (probably the main reason they want me to use care with their name). 

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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