History of the Zipper:
This brief over look of the history of the zipper is taken from our Podcast “Stitched” (our podcast about all things sewing and quilting). At the end of every episode we have a segment called “I’ve got a notion” where we talk about the history of some of our favorite sewing and quilting notions.
So without further ado…let’s talk about zippers!
The history of the zipper is a long story that involves a series of inventors. It’s origins begin back in the 19th century with Esias Howe…a name you might be familiar with as the inventor of the sewing machine. He claimed a patent on his “Automatic, Continuous, Clothing Closure” in 1851 and although it was a great idea he was too busy marketing the sewing machine to promote it.
40 years later Howe’s invention was rediscovered and improved upon by a man named Witcomb Judson who renamed the clever new closure as the “Clasp Locker”. Although it was basically just a complicated series of hook and eye fasteners it was an improvement on Howe’s design. He felt however that instead of using it to fasten clothing with it would be best used as a closure for shoes.
To market and produce his new product he started the Universal Fastener Company and then debuted his fancy new Clasp Lockers at the famous 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Unfortunately, unlike many of the other ideas shown at that particular World’s Fair, such as Cracker Jack, the Ferris Wheel, spray paint, and the dishwasher, it didn’t enjoy much success.
Fast forward 20 years…the Universal Fastener Company, located in Hoboken, New Jersey was still in business and working there was a man named Gideon Sundback who had an idea. Gideon was a Swedish born immigrant who began working at the factory, became the lead designer and married the plant manager’s daughter.
Sadly when his wife died Gideon retreated away from the factory and back to his designing table but that’s where he sparked on the idea of how to not only improve upon the fasteners his company was currently making but how to build the machines needed to create the pieces of his new closures.
His idea was brilliant. He took the existing Clasp Lockers and increased the number of fastening elements from 4 per inch to 10 per inch then he gave it two rows of interlocking teeth that would latch together with the help of a slider. Gideon received a patent for what he called the “Seprable Fastener” in 1917 and this evolving closure became the beginning of what we know the zipper to look like today.
Soon after receiving this patent the BF Goodrich Company began using Gideon’s Seprable Fasters on the rubber boots they were producing but decided to call these new fasteners something a little more catchy…and the name zipper was born. And it stuck!
However, from the time of the zippers christening it would still be almost another 20 years before they would be incorporated into clothing! They were only used primarily for boots and tobacco pouches until in the 1930’s a campaign was launched that used zippers in childrens clothing. These garments were marketed as clothing that would promote children’s self-reliance by making it easier for them to dress themselves. And the advertising worked!
The next boost that the humble zipper received came in 1937 when French fashion designers announced that zipper flys were the newest tailoring idea for men and Esquire magazine claimed that the zipper fly would put an end to “The possibility of unintentional and embarrassing disarray.” in mens trousers.
From that point on the zippers destiny was sealed. Today zippers can be seen everywhere…on all types of clothing, luggage, shoes, purses, and countless other items and it’s hard to imagine a world without the zipper helping us to hold everything together!
To listen to the entire episode of this podcast you can do that here:
It’s a fun episode about sampler quilts…and running my first marathon. And you can find more episodes of Stitched on iTunes, Spotify, and Google Play.
And to order some fun zippers with cute pulls you can order these HERE (affiliate link).
And to learn how to install an invisible zipper you can check out this post HERE: