Monday, September 7, 2015

Celebrating the Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure (a.k.a. the Zipper)

by Erin Doane, curator

There are so many little conveniences in life that we take for granted. Do you ever give much thought to the zipper? Just imagine how different your life would be without that fastener. Okay, so the difference would probably not be very dramatic – you would have to button your pants and lace your boots – but zippers are spectacularly useful things. 

Advertisement for “an interesting Exhibit of the Newest 
Fastening Device,” Elmira Star-Gazette, 1929
The ancestor of the modern zipper was developed in the mid-19th century. In 1851 Elias Howe, inventor of the sewing machine, patented an “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure.” Howe never tried to market or mass produce his invention but his sewing machine was a great success.

1851 patent for Howe’s Automatic 
Continuous Clothing Closure
In 1893, Whitcomb Judson patented a “Clasp Locker” that was similar to Howe’s invention. It was a complicated hook-and-eye fastener used on shoes. Judson and businessman Lewis Walker created the Universal Fastener Company to manufacture Judson’s invention. They debuted the clasp locker at the 1893 World’s Fair. Judson continued to make improvements on his fastening device and received another patent for the “C-curity” fastener.

1893 patent for Judson’s Clasp Locker
Gideon Sundback, an employee of the Universal Fastener Company, is credited with designing the modern zipper. He made improvements on Judson’s C-curity fastener and received a patent for the “Separable Fastener” in 1917.
1917 patent for Sundback’s Separable Fastener
While the zipper as an object is a 19th century invention, the name zipper did not get applied to it until 1923. That year, the B.F. Goodrich Company started using Sundback’s fastener on its new rubber boots. They called the fastener the “zipper” and the name caught on. Boots and tobacco pouches were the first things on which zippers were widely used.

Goodrich Lo-Zipper advertisement,  
Elmira Star-Gazette, 1928
Fire-resistant boot with zipper, late 20th century
In the 1920s, manufacturers started putting zippers on clothing. One of its earliest uses was on leather jackets. The fastener was also especially popular on children’s clothing because it made it easier to dress squirming children and even let them dress themselves at a younger age. Today zippers are found on all types of products from clothing and shoes to housewares and camping items. What would we do without zippers?

Clothing advertisement, Elmira Star-Gazette, 1929
Child’s dress with zipper, 1955


  1. oh I would miss zippers.......

  2. well the universal question was asked ... what else would we do with zippers .. and or --- what would we do without them ?? lets see what kinds of ideas everyone comes up with !!

  3. Zippers are used for a long time and they can be made use of for different fabrics. To understand more about Zippers history, like who discovered the zipper, what it is look like, and how it was created and created. You can inspect out my blog for more details.

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