Have you ever given much thought to what life might be like without the humble zipper? For starters, your clothes would have a hard time staying put. In a stiff breeze, it’s handy to have a jacket that zips up. Blue jeans probably wouldn’t be as much fun to wear without zippers either!

If you go on a camping trip, zippers play an important role, too. Your suitcase or backpack might spill its contents everywhere if it wasn’t zipped shut. You might also get cold at night if your sleeping bag didn’t zip up nice and tight.

The first methods used to keep clothes fastened were buttons. Buttons worked well for the most part, but eventually clever inventors searched for even better ways to keep clothes closed.

The invention of the modern zipper was actually a long process that involved several different people. The inventor of the sewing machine, Elias Howe, received a patent in 1851 for an “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure.” Although it was a good idea, he didn’t market it, because he was too busy promoting the sewing machine.

Over 40 years later, Whitcomb Judson improved upon Howe’s idea and began to market what he called a “Clasp Locker.” He designed it to be a fastener for shoes. To produce his new device, he started the Universal Fastener Company. The product debuted at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, but it didn’t have much success.

The modern zipper was eventually designed in 1913 by Gideon Sundback, who worked at the Universal Fastener Company in Hoboken, New Jersey. He received a patent for his “Separable Fastener” in 1917.

Sundback’s design increased the number of fastening elements to 10 per inch and included two rows of interlocking teeth that would latch together with the help of a slider. His design was the first fastener to resemble what we now know as a zipper.

But Sundback didn’t come up with the name! The name “zipper” was developed by the B.F. Goodrich Company. They used Sundback’s device as a fastener on a new type of rubber boots they produced. They called the device a “zipper” and the name stuck!

Early on, zippers were mainly used on boots and pouches that held tobacco. It would be another 20 years before the fashion industry began to use zippers on clothing. One of the first uses on closing was replacing the buttons on men’s trousers with zippers.

Today, zippers remain very popular and can be found on all sorts of clothing and other products. Take a look around you. How many zippers do you see and use on a daily basis?

 

62 Join the Discussion

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  1. Dear Wonderopolis,

    I loved today’s wonder! I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about brushing your teeth.

    Remember back on wonder of the day #595 – How does a hovercraft work? I thought wonder of the day #596 was about Astronauts or about the planets and I was wrong. Wonder of the day #595 was not about Astronauts or about the planets. Wonder of the day #596 was What is a black hole?

    PS, 1st comment!

    TJ

    • You ARE the first comment today, TJ! Way to go! We’re super glad you liked today’s Wonder of the Day® and hope you learned lots of cool new facts about the invention of the zipper! We really like hearing from you over the weekends! :-)

  2. Hey Wonderopolis! I am back. Sorry that I couldn’t have the 1st comment. I had no computer access until now. :( So, TJ has the 1st comment instead. Hopefully that I will have the second comment. ;)

    • Yes, Samuel! You are the second Wonder Friend to visit today’s Wonder and leave us a comment! Thank you! We think both you and TJ are awesome Wonder Friends! :-)

    • Thanks for checking out today’s Wonder and letting us know what you think about it, Maddie! We’re glad you thought it was funny! Zippers are interesting things…we think they can be funny sometimes, too!

  3. It is cool that the modern zipper was made in 1913. I never really wondered this, but now i am curious. I am gonna read nore! :) ;)

    • That makes us SUPER happy to hear, Maddie! We love it when our Wonder Friends are encouraged to WONDER more about things they learn when they visit Wonderopolis. We hope you have a WONDERful day! :-)

  4. Cool wonder, Wonderopolis! I loved those shoes how they have the zipper on them. Me and my class love all of the wonders you put online. I have lots of shoes and they do not have any zippers on them, but I would like to have those shoes. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about going to the dentist.

    • We thought those shoes were SUPER cool, too, AJ! It was neat how you could make four different shoes out of one shoe just by using zippers! Thanks for letting us know that you and your classmates enjoy exploring in Wonderopolis…we think that is extra AWESOME! :-)

  5. Oh, good. At least I have the 2nd comment. :) I am going to take a guess for tomorrow’s wonder. I think it will be about dentists.

    • We think that’s a GREAT guess, Samuel! We can’t wait to visit Wonderopolis tomorrow to see if your guess is correct! :-)

  6. Hi wonderopolis we love today’s wonder! Clay hates zippers! We think tomorrow’s wonder is What is the Fastest Roller coaster!

  7. It is super amazing how the shoes have a zipper. I have never in my whole entire life had or saw a shoe with a zipper! I think tomorrow is going to be a dentist. Wonderopolis is such a great site. It makes people think educationally!

    • We really like your comment, Salma…THANK YOU for sharing it with us today! Thanks also for sharing how amazing you think shoes with zippers are. Those were super nice things you said about Wonderopolis, too! :-)

    • That is SO COOL, Rahul! We’re proud of you! Thanks for being a SUPER Wonder Friend and having FUN by trying to guess each next day’s Wonder…YOU ROCK! :-)

  8. I think zippers are WONDERful. They work really good. Zippers are awesome. Tomorrow’s wonder might be about the dentist or something scary. My whole class loves wondering about what’s next. Have a wonderful Memorial Day!

    • How GREAT that you and your classmates enjoy visiting Wonderopolis and WONDERing what the next Wonder will be, Becca! That makes us really happy to hear! Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for zippers! We think they’re pretty awesome, too! :-)

  9. I think tomorrow’s wonder is about check ups, what is strep throat or what is a uvula. This wonder was awesome and I wonder where I could get those cool shoes.

    • WOW, Abrianna! Your guesses for tomorrow’s Wonder are AMAZING! We would like to WONDER more about each one of those! We agree that the shoes from today’s Wonder video are cool! Four shoes in one is REALLY NEAT! :-)

    • We’re not sure where the shoe designer featured in today’s Wonder video got his inspiration for the name Nat-2, Aliya! We’ll both have to WONDER a bit more about that! We think those shoes are REALLY WONDERful, though! :-)

    • That’s a great question, “Wonder!” We think you might be able to find them on Amazon.com, and in specialty shoe shops around the world. The Nat-2 company is located in Europe, so we’re not quite sure about availability in other parts of the world or in America. We think we’d like a pair of those cool shoes, though, wouldn’t you? :-)

  10. Me and my friends always wanted to know how zippers came together and I think tomorrow’s wonder is about the dentist.

    • We’re glad you and your friends learned some interesting new facts about zippers by visiting today’s Wonder, Zac! Thanks for sharing that you think tomorrow’s Wonder might be about dentists! We have quite a few other Wonder Friends who think that, too! :-)

    • We’re glad you liked today’s Wonder and thought it was funny, Emilie and Sophie! Thanks for being AWESOME Wonder Friends and letting us know! :-)

  11. I think today’s wonder of the day is awesome! I think tomorrow’s wonder is about the dentist or having a bee sting.

    • Woo, hoo! We’re really glad you liked today’s Wonder, Anissa! Thanks for sharing your ideas for tomorrow’s Wonder, too! Have a WONDERful weekend! :-)

    • Thanks so much for your nice comment, B.B.! We are super glad you liked the video for today’s Wonder of the Day® about zippers! We thought those shoes were really great, too! :-)

  12. I really liked the video. I kind of want those shoes now. :) I think tomorrow’s wonder is going to be about a dentist just like AJ said.

    • We think it’s really super that so many of our Wonder Friends (like YOU!) think tomorrow’s Wonder might be about dentists, FeFe! We think we’d like to own a pair or two of those neat zipper shoes, too! :-)

  13. Dear, Wonderopolis
    Sorry I couldn’t get to you on any other days. How do you figure out the wonder before the day of that day? I think today’s wonder of the day is a AWESOME wonder of the day. I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is either going to be going to the dentist or brushing your teeth.

    All of your wonders are very cool. Some of my Favorites are the prairie dog one and the A-G-L-E-T one with phineas and ferb in it. I saw the whole aglet one of phineas and ferb video on disney channel. I cannot believe that the zipper was made in 1913. That is a long time ago. Well, goodbye see you soon. :) :) :) :) :)

    • It’s really AWESOME to hear from you today, Ava! Thank you for sharing some of your favorite Wonders of the Day®! We like it when our Wonder Friends give us feedback! :-)

      We are constantly working on new Wonders of the Day from all the amazing ideas we receive from Wonder Friends around the world! It takes a good bit of time to go from “Wonder idea” to Wonder of the Day®, so we work a little bit ahead to keep new Wonders ready to share! Thank you for asking such a GREAT question about how we create our Wonders here in Wonderopolis! :-)

  14. I loved watching about who made the zipper and also I thought it was really cool that they started putting zippers on more and more clothing. :)

    • It’s really cool to WONDER about zippers, isn’t it, Ryan? Thanks so much for your great comment! We thought about how many different items of clothing we have that use zippers…it’s a LOT! Sometimes we WONDER what it would be like if zippers hadn’t been invented? :-)

  15. How do you come up with the wonders? How did you come up with wonderopolis?

    P.S. I think this website is awesome!!!!!

    • Thanks so much for letting us know you think visiting Wonderopolis is AWESOME, Wonder Girl! We really appreciate hearing that! Did you know that many of the ideas for Wonders of the Day come from Wonder Friends just like YOU? It’s true! You can tell us what you’re WONDERing about any time you like by leaving us a comment or by clicking on the “nominate” button at the top of every page in Wonderopolis.org and filling in the boxes! It’s really easy and LOTS of fun! :-)

  16. I never even knew what date when the zipper was invented nor who invented it. I wonder what the next video is. Maybe about kitties?

    • We’re really glad that you learned some FUN new facts about the invention of the zipper, Julie! Thanks for sharing what you discovered with us! :-)

    • Hi, Alissa! We had fun learning about the history of the zipper from way back when, and also seeing some cool, modern uses for it like in the video for this Wonder. We’re glad you did, too! :-)

    • Welcome back to Wonderopolis, Traisha! We’re so glad you stopped by for a visit today and learned some cool new facts about zippers with us! Thanks for being a WONDERful Wonder Friend! :-)

  17. Some further info for your records!!!!

    My great grandfather Homer Crawford and his fraternity brother (Col. Walker) at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa (close to Franklin) bought the patent for the zipper from the Universal Fastener Co. at the World’s Fair in Chicago! They developed it eventually into the Talon Fastener Co. which was quite successful. Then in the 40′s my great uncle Robert Crawford took advantage of his father Homer and got him to sign away his stock–so eventually Robert ran away to Canada and everything fell apart.

    http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/Zippers.html

    • Meg, thanks for sharing that fascinating story with us! We’re sorry to hear the end of the story was not as bright as the beginning, but how COOL that you come from a long history of patent owners! The zipper is something nearly all of us use each day– and it’s WONDERful to think that your family is a part of that history!

      Thanks for posting and inspiring each of us to WONDER about our cool family history!! :)

    • Hi there, Morat, we hope you learned something new about the zipper today! Thanks for joining the fun at Wonderopolis! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who invented the zipper?
  • Who designed the modern zipper?
  • Where did the name “zipper” come from?

 

Wonder Gallery

zipper_shutterstock_77414155Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Are you tired of the same boring old zippers on your clothes and jackets? Did you know that you can give them some zip (pun totally intended!) by making homemade zipper pulls to attach to them? It’s fun and it’s easy.

Grab a friend or family member and check out these fun zipper pull crafts:

When you’re finished, post a picture of your homemade zipper pull on Facebook. We can’t wait to see what you make!

 

Still Wondering

Before zippers, there were buttons. Use Illuminations’ Begin With Buttons lesson to learn how to use buttons to explore logical and numerical relationships.

 

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