Do you know the history of the zipper?

October 24, 2019

Can you imagine our lives without zippers? This little fastening device is everywhere; on our trousers, jackets, boots, luggage, tents, you name it. Nevertheless, we take it for granted.  I bet you don’t even think about zippers when you get dressed in the morning. And yet, it is one of the great inventions that have made our lives so much easier.

To illustrate how much this simple device helps us, picture yourself in one of those never-ending queues in the ladies when you’re in a hurry. Now add a few drinks to that situation. Think of the desperation you’d feel having to undo all the fly buttons of your pants if you didn’t have a zipper! See what I mean?

A model walks the runway at the Herve Leger by Max Azria Spring 2014

 Zipper dress, a Herve Leger creation by Max Azria

Here is the history of the zipper

The super handy device was created by the same inventor of the sewing machine, Elias Howe, who patented it as the “Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure” in 1851.

The inventor

But it was only forty years later that another inventor, Whitcomb Judson, marketed the smart closure system, naming it “Clasp Locker”. The Chicago inventor became known as “father of the zipper” even though this name had not been used yet. He launched with a partner the Universal Fastener Company, and presented the clasp locker at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. And picture this: with little commercial success.

First commercial use

Later, they hired a Swedish electrical engineer to work for the Universal Fastener Company, Gideon Sundback, who became Head Designer at the factory. He improved Judson’s device, and by 1913, what we know today as the zipper was ready.

Four years later, the patent for the “Separable Fastener” was issued. Sundback also created the machine to produce the fastener, which was mainly used on boots and tobacco pouches.

The B. F. Goodrich Company started making a new type of rubber boots that came with the “Separable Fastener”, and they named the fastener: Zipper!

Zipper in the fashion industry

The famous zipper took more than twenty years to become part of fashion. In the ’30s, a campaign promoted the modern fastening device as a way to help children get dressed by themselves.

By 1937, the zipper had beaten the button in the “Battle of the Fly”, being called by Esquire Magazine the “Newest Tailoring Idea for Men.”

The history of the zipper took long until becoming a commercial reality. But then, nobody can image the world withou it!


Images via Shutterstock