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Fascinating facts about the invention of the
zipper by Gideon Sundback in 1913.

ZIPPER
AT A GLANCE:
The design used today, based on interlocking teeth, was invented by an employee of Whitcomb Judson's, Swedish born scientist Gideon Sundback. In 1913 and patented as the "Hookless Fastener" and after more improvements patented in 1917 as the "Separable Fastener". Only after Gideon Sundbach, had remodeled Judson's fastener into a more streamlined and reliable form, was the fastener a success.
THE STORY
RELATED INFO
BOOKS
WEB SITES
HOW IT WORKS
DID YOU KNOW?
Invention: zipper in 1913
Zipper image courtesy YKK America
Function: noun / zip-per / Originally a trademark.
Definition: A fastening device consisting of parallel rows of metal, plastic, or nylon teeth on adjacent edges of an opening that are interlocked by a sliding tab.
Patent: 1,060,378 (US) issued April 29,1913
Inventor: Gideon Sundback
Gideon Sundback photo courtesy Public Forum Institute
Criteria; First to patent. Modern prototype. .
Birth: 1880
Death: June 21, 1954
Nationality: Swedish 
Milestones:
1851 Patent # 8,540 issued Nov. 25, automatic, continuous clothing closure, Elias Howe,
1893 Patent # 504,037 issued Aug. 25, shoe fastener, hook-and-eye, Whitcomb L. Judson,
1894 Universal Fastener Company formed
1904 Automatic Hook and Eye Company
1905 C-urity, Whitcomb L. Judson,
1913 hookless fastener, Otto Frederick Gideon Sundback,
1917 Patent # 1,219,881 (US) issued Mar. 20, 1917, Talon, separable fastener, Gideon Sundback,
1925 Zipper name, B. F. Goodrich Company,
1928 Hookless Fastener Comapny renamed Talon, Inc.
1934 zipper manufacturing, YKK group,
zipper, clothing, fastening device, apparel, Sundback, Gideon Sundback, Elias Howe, Whitcomb L. Judson, B. F. Goodrich Company, history, invention, facts, inventor, biography.
The Story:
After a slow birth and years of rejection, the zipper found its way into everything from plastic pencil cases to sophisticated space suits and countless "fly" jokes. The zippers used today are little different then the Gideon Sundback design of 1917.

An early device similar to the zipper, "an Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure", was patented by Elias Howe in 1851, but did not reach the market. Howe was preoccupied with the sewing machine that he had patented in 1846.

Whitcomb L. Judson loved machines and experimented with many different kinds of gadgets. He invented a number of labor-saving items, including the zipper. It came about because of a friend’s stiff back. The problem was that his friend could not do up his shoes.  Judson came up with a slide fastener that could be opened or closed with one hand.  This was an absolutely new idea, and in a few weeks Judson had a working model.  On August 29, 1893, he patented his new "clasp locker."  The earliest "clasp locker"  fasteners were being used in the apparel industry by 1905, but they weren't considered practical.

The design used today, based on interlocking teeth, was invented by an employee of Whitcomb Judson's, Swedish born scientist Gideon Sundback. In 1913 and patented as the "Hookless Fastener" and after more improvements patented in 1917 as the "Separable Fastener". Only after Gideon Sundbach, had remodeled Judson's fastener into a more streamlined and reliable form, was the fastener a success. One of its first customers was the US Army. It applied zippers to the clothing and gear of the troops of World War I;

When the B. F. Goodrich Company decided to market galoshes with Sundback's fasteners, the product became popular.  These new galoshes could be fastened with a single zip of the hand. A Goodrich executive is said to have slid the fastener up and down on the boot and exclaimed, “Zip 'er up,” echoing the sound made by this clever device  and the fasteners came to be called "zippers."  Registered in 1925, zipper was originally a B.F. Goodrich trademark for overshoes with fasteners. As the fastener that “zipped” came to be used in other articles, its name was used as well. B.F. Goodrich sued to protect its trademark but was allowed to retain proprietary rights only over Zipper Boots. Zipper itself had moved into the world of common nouns

Today the YKK Group is most famous for making zippers, although it also does business in other fastening products, architectural products, and industrial machinery.
When you see YKK, you think of zippers, because we have manufactured zippers since 1934.. The name YKK was first registered as a trademark in 1946. Over the years, the letters "YKK" were stamped onto the zippers' pull tabs, and thus YKK became known as the Company's trademark.

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Invention of Velcro   from The Great Idea Finder
History of Apparel    from The Great Idea Finder

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
The Evolution of Useful Things
by Henry Petroski / Paperback - 288 pages Reprint edition (March 1994) / Vintage Books
This surprising book may appear to be about the simple things of life--forks, paper clips, zippers--but in fact it is a far-flung historical adventure on the evolution of common culture.
100 Inventions That Shaped World History
by Bill Yenne, Morton, Dr. Grosser (Editor) / Paperback - 112 pages (1993) / Bluewood Books 
This book contains inventions from all around the world from microchips to fire. This is a really good book if you are going to do research on inventions.

The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle : And Other Surprising Stories About Inventions
by Don L. Wulffson / Paperback - 128 pages (1999) / Puffin
Brief factual stories about how various familiar things were invented, many by accident, from animal crackers to the zipper.

Popular Patents
by Travis Brown / Paperback - 224 pages / Scarecrow Press (September 1, 2000)

Eighty stories of America's first inventions. Each includes a sketch of the invention, a profile of the inventor and a glimpse of how the invention has found its way into American culture.

The Engines of Our Ingenuity : An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture
by John H. Lienhard / Paperback: 272 pages / Oxford University Press, USA (December 4, 2003)
Based on episodes from Lienhard's widely broadcast public radio series, this intriguing set of essays begins with a simple premise: more than we often care to admit, our lives are shaped by our machines. Fleshing out this proposition, Lienhard ransacks 2,000 years of scientific and technological history, cobbling together a quirky biography of the strange being he calls homo technologicus.
Why Didn't I Think of That?: Bizarre Origins of Ingenious Inventions We Couldn't Live Without
by Allyn Freeman, Bob Golden / Paperback - 260 pages / John Wiley & Sons; (September 1997)
Filled with wacky and fascinating facts, awe-inspiring success statistics, and rags-to-riches stories, Chronicles the odd origins behind 50 famous inventions and reveals the business side of each product's actual production, marketing, and distribution.
Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty
by Robert Friedel / Paperback: 304 pages / W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (1996)

A history of the hookless fastener, an invention that triumphed despite some initial technical problems, such as the tendency to snag or burst open, and became an important part of modern life.

ON THE WEB:
Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
(URL: web.mit.edu/invent/iow/judson.html)
Whitcomb Judson
Judson patented his "clasp-locker'' on Aug. 29, 1893; later in 1893, he exhibited this new invention at the Chicago World's Fair.
Zipper History
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.
Who invented the zipper?
Whitcomb L. Judson invented the zipper and YKK is the Japanese company that makes them.
History of Invention
The inventor of the zipper was Whitcomb L. Judson, who came up with the fancy fastener to help out a friend. From CBC4Kids Web site.
Zipper Patent
Judson's original 1893 clasp-unlocker patent for opening and closing shoes. Patent No. 504,038 issued August 29, 1893. From The Engines of Our Ingenuity by John H. Lienhard.
YKK Zipper History
The YKK America Company is located in Macon, Georgia, for its manufacturing home and built its first U.S. factory there which began production in 1974. What began as one factory has evolved: the Macon National Manufacturing Center is now the largest and most modern producer of zippers in the entire world with 12 plants on 300+ acres in two industrial parks.

HOW IT WORKS:
Structure of Zipper
Zippers can be divided into three major parts: the tape, elements and slider

DID YOU KNOW?

  • Before you next use a zipper, look cloely to see if YKK is printed on the metal. If it is you have a quality product.
  • YKK America manufactures more than 7 million zippers each day, as well as other closures in its Macon Georgia plants..
  • In the 1930s a sales campaign ran for children's clothing that used the new zippers. The device was praised for promoting self-reliance in young children. "Mommy look! One zip and I'm all dressed!"
  • In 1937 in the Battle of the Fly it was zipper versus button. French fashion designers went wild for the new invention for men's trousers.
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised December 13, 2006.
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