In modern society, we have grown accustomed to constantly looking for the latest upgrades for all of our newest technology. While we are so busy searching for items that are bigger, better, faster, more efficient, etc., it is easy to take some not-so-modern technology for granted. For example, think about putting on some pants and a coat in the morning, then grabbing your purse, laptop bag, or backpack. What do any of those things have to do with technology you may ask? Well, there is a good chance that most if not all of those items use a zipper. Today when we hear the word “technology,” recent things like cell phones and laptop computers immediately come to mind. It is easy to forget that some of the technology that we rely on day to day, like the zipper, was invented long ago.
The zipper was invented by the work of two different men, but was originally the brainchild of American inventor Whitcomb Judson. At the end of the 19th century, Judson sought to invent a replacement for the lengthy laces that were required to hold together men’s and women’s boots. Judson successfully designed and patented his “clasp-locker.” The clasp-locker closely resembled the zipper that we use today, however, the prototype of this creation was clumsy and jammed frequently. While Judson and his coworkers sewed the device into their own boots and displayed the invention at the 1893 World Fair in Chicago, it did not catch on with the public.
The clasp-locker was not forgotten, however, for in 1913, the engineer Gideon Sundbach revamped the invention until it was more reliable. Despite the remodeling, the clasp-locker, renamed the “zipper” as an onomatopoeia (a word that sounds like the object it describes), still struggled to become popular in the fashion industry. However, it was immediately picked up by the US Army as zippers were applied to clothing and gear for the troops entering World War I. By the 1930′s, zippers had finally found their way into the fashion industry and were put on all kinds of clothing, footwear, cases etc., as they still are today. Unfortunately, Whitcomb Judson never saw the success of his original invention or even heard the term “zipper,” for he died in 1909.
Take a look around you, can you see or think of other pieces of technology we use in every day life that are not our modern electronics? Leave us a comment and let us know what you come up with! Come visit our President Electric exhibit to learn about many more inventions from the Progressive Era!