Zipper, today's most popular fastening device, was first invented and patented in 1851, by Elias Howe. However, it was relatively unknown until it was patented and marketed by Whitcomb Judson, in 1893. The zipper was not popular in the fashion industry until the 1930s.
The YKK Group is the most popular zipper manufacturer today, which started manufacturing zippers way back in 1934. YKK opened its first zipper manufacturing plant in the US in 1960, and since then are the world's largest zipper supplier.
It was in 1851, that a device similar to today's zipper was patented by the name "an Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure" by Elias Howe.
Elias was preoccupied with his other invention: the sewing machine, which he patented in 1846, which is the reason why he did not take any efforts to market the zipper. Hence, even though the zipper-like device had first been invented by Elias and patented in 1851, he is not actually known as its inventor.
The credit of being the inventor of the Zipper is given to Whitcomb Judson, who was the first one to market a device called the 'clasp locker', forty years after Elias' patent. Judson was a person who had special interest in gadgets and often experimented with them.
It so happened that a friend of his had a stiff back, due to which he found tying and untying his shoes very difficult. This is when Judson came up with a sliding fastener, that could be opened and closed just by using one hand. He called it the clasp locker.
The clasp locker was patented on August 29, 1893, which was a device similar to the product patented by Elias and was marketed in the form of a hook and eye shoe-fastener. Judson joined hands with a businessman, named Colonel Lewis Walker and launched the first company (Universal Fastening Company) to manufacture the shoe-fastening device.
Clasp locker was introduced to the public, for the first time through the Chicago World Fair, in 1893. However, the device did not meet much commercial success.
Gideon Sundback, the Head Designer at the Universal Fastening Company was responsible for designing an improved version of the clasp fastener version. In 1913, he finally came up with the 'separable fastener'.
This modern zipper was designed in such a way that instead of the previously designed 4 fasteners in an inch, this one accommodated 10 fasteners per inch. It also featured two separate rows of teeth facing each other which could be pulled together with the help of a slider.
A patent for this separable fastener was issued in 1917. However, Sundback did not stop at manufacturing and marketing the separable fastener. He took an extra step and created a manufacturing machine for it.
This machine cut scoops from the Y-shaped wire and then created dents and nibs in the scoops, which were then clamped onto a cloth table to produce a continuous zipper chain. This innovative machinery produced almost a hundred feet of zippers, per day.
This improved version of the zipper became a hit with the masses and was most popular with the US army, who purchased these zippers for gears and clothing of troops during World War I.
This design of the separable fastener, is the one which is used even today. However, the name 'zipper' was given to the device, only in 1925, by a company called B.F. Goodrich Company, which used the separable fasteners on rubber boots or galoshes.
The galoshes could be zipped by a single hand, and because of the sound it made while fastening, the name 'zipper' eventually stuck. The zipper was B.F. Goodrich Company's trademark for overshoes with separable fasteners. During that time, the zipper was used only for boots and tobacco pouches.
Zipper as a clothing accessory, or device for clothing closure had still not come about. However, by the end of the 1930s, a campaign regarding children's clothing with zippers was launched.
The zipper's advantages were stressed upon during this campaign - like how zippers would enable children to dress and undress, by themselves easily as compared to buttoned dresses.
Finally in 1937, the zipper managed to beat the button, when it was used by French fashion designers in men's clothing. When the zipper started being used in other articles, B.F. Goodrich Company, in order to protect their trademark, filed suit.
However, they were permitted to possess proprietary rights only for zipper boots. Zipper moved from being a patented product, to the world of common nouns.
Today we are so used to zippers, that we seldom stop to think how and when it was invented. Who would think that the zipper took so long to come into to the market, after actually being invented.
Thanks to all the zipper inventors, today we can enjoy the luxury of zippers used in bags, boots, apparel, pillow cases, cushion covers, seat covers and so on. Zippers have made life far more simpler for all of us!