drawing of a modern 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 magazine and fashion industry made the novel zipper
the popular item it is today, but it happened nearly eighty years after
the zipper's first appearance.
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', However, 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 device.
The clasp locker had its public debut at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair
and met with little commercial success.
Whitcomb Judson's clasp locker
Swedish-born (who later immigrated to
Gideon Sundback, an electrical engineer, was hired to work for the Universal
Fastener Company. Good design skills and a marriage to the plant-manager's
daughter Elvira Aronson led Sundback to the position of head designer at
Universal. He was responsible for improving the far from perfect 'Judson
C-curity Fastener.' Unfortunately, Sundback's wife died in 1911. The grieving
husband busied himself at the design table and by December of 1913,
he had designed the modern zipper.
Gideon Sundback increased the number
of fastening elements from four per inch to ten or eleven, had two facing-rows
of teeth that pulled into a single piece by the slider, and increased the
opening for the teeth guided by the slider. The patent for the 'Separable
Fastener' was issued in 1917. Sundback also created the manufacturing machine
for the new zipper. The 'S-L' or scrapless machine took a special Y-shaped
wire and cut scoops from it, then punched the scoop dimple and nib, and
clamped each scoop on a cloth tape to produce a continuous zipper chain.
Within the first year of operation, Sundback's zipper-making machinery
was producing a few hundred feet of fastener per day.
Sundback patent for the "Separable Fastener"
The 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 or galoshes 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.
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the original 1917 Sundback patent for the "Separable Fastener"