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?