Who Invented the Zip?

Whitcomb L. Judson of USA first patented the blueprint of a zipper, which was later perfected into the modern day zipper by Gideon Sundback, a Swedish engineer hired by Judson to work for his Universal Fastener Company.

The invention of zipper is mainly down to two gentlemen, one who founded the Universal Fastener Company, and the other who worked for it. The company was also the first to patent the first ever design of the zipper device. The two gentlemen that are being talked about are Whitcomb L. Judson and Gideon Sundback respectively.

Mr. Judson was already a known name by the time he received the patent for his design of the zipper in 1893, which he then called and marketed as the “Clasp Locker”. Judson is also credited with the invention of “Pneumatic Street Railway”. In his 16 year career, Judson received the patents for as many as 30 designs, among which the most notable one is the “chain-lock fastener”.

The year 1893 wasn’t the first instance when an invention like the zipper was patented. In the year 1851, Elias Howe patented the design for an “Automatic Continuous Clothing Enclosure”. It was pretty much the same as the zipper, except that it didn’t become popular at all. This was because Howe didn’t market or sell his idea and design. The most probable reason for this to happen was that Howe had already invented the “Sewing Machine” by then, and naturally, he invested all his focus and energy on marketing his invention rather than a patented design. Consequently, Howe didn’t go anywhere with his patent, which led to Judson receiving the patent for his design of the zipper, under the name of “clasp locker” in the year 1893.

Rumor has it that Judson created his design of the zipper for a friend of his, who had trouble bending down to do up his shoes. Judson’s friend had a stiff back, which made it difficult for him to reach all the way down to his feet. Owing to this problem, Judson came up with a simple idea of fastening his friend’s shoes with a slide fastener that could be opened or closed with one hand. He then took to converting this idea into a working design and got it patented.

After Judson received the patent, he implemented his design of the zipper in Universal Fastener Company, the company that he owned. The clasp locker had its public debut at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and met with little commercial success. Seeing the promise in this design, Judson hired the Swedish born American engineer Gideon Sundback, who took the design further and perfected into the one that we know as the modern day zipper. Apparently, Sundback had married Elvira Aronson, the Universal Fastener Company’s Plant manager’s daughter, who helped Sundback to the position of the head designer in the company. Unfortunately, Elvira died in 1911, after which Sundback invested his all into designing the modern zipper, which he did by December 1913, and got it patented as the “Separable Fastener” in the year 1917.

Sundback implemented the system of two facing-rows of teeth that pulled into a single piece by the slider, and increased the opening for the teeth guided by the slider. He also increased the number of teeth from four per inch to ten or eleven per inch. Sundback also managed to invent the machine which manufactured zippers. The machine took a special Y-shaped wire and cut scoops from it, then punched the scoop dimple and nib, and clamped each scoop on a cloth tape to produce a continuous zipper chain. The machine produced as much as hundred feet of fasteners each day.

Finally, the B.F. Goodrich Company worked on their own version of Sundback’s design and patented it as the popular ‘Zipper’. Seemingly, they named it after the ‘zip’ sound that the device produced. The Goodrich Company used the zipper for various items such as rubber boots, galoshes, tobacco pouches etc.

History of the Zipper

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