Who Invented The Zipper?

fact-finder | Student

On August 29, 1893, mechanical engineer Whitcomb Judson of Chicago, Illinois, was awarded a patent for a "clasp-locker." (A patent is a government document that grants an inventor the sole right to manufacture his or her invention for a certain period of time.) This fastener, which consisted of a linear sequence of hook-and-eye locks, was originally used to close high boots. It replaced the long, button-hooked shoelaces of the 1890s.

Judson displayed his invention at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, but it received little attention. Judson and his business partner, Lewis Walker, eventually received an order from the U.S. Postal Service for 20 zippered mail bags. However, the zippers jammed up so badly that the bags were discarded.

In 1913, Gideon Sundback, a Swedish-American engineer, revised Judson's hook-and-eye device and created a smaller, lighter, and more reliable "hookless fastener" with interlocking teeth—similar to today's zippers. In 1918, the U.S. Army became Sundback's first customer. B. F. Goodrich introduced these hookless fasteners on its boots in 1923. The boots were called "zippers," from the "zip" sound the fastener made when closing. The name "zipper" was eventually applied to the hookless fastener itself. Today, zippers are easily produced and billions are sold each year.

Sources: How Products Are Made, pp. 500-504; Panati, Charles. Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things, pp. 316-17.