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Zip It

I majored in theater in college. I was in a play set in the early 1800s during my freshman year, which was great. I wanted to be able to handle a wide range of period pieces and genres as an aspiring actor. The director and costume designer, on the other hand, believed in realism at all costs. For this specific play, all the actors were dressed in period-appropriate clothing and underwear. This meant that most of us needed an additional hour to prepare for each performance just to lace up our corsets and button up our dresses. Thank goodness there were no fast costume changes. The whalebone (yep, whalebone) supports that gave my corset its form created bruises on my hips and thighs that lasted for weeks.

I’m bringing this up since today is National Zipper Day. I know, this may be the most obscure holiday I’ve ever written about, but seeing what our forefathers wore in the name of fashion during the “pre-zipper” era has made me appreciate this fantastic innovation.

To be honest, if you’re like me, you don’t spend much time thinking about zippers, but I’m pretty sure most of you are wearing something with a zipper stitched into it right now. if you are still in your jammies or sweatpants, perhaps you’ve retrieved a coin purse or shopping list from your purse and then securely fastened it with a zipper. Or maybe you travel often. Zippers are essential to the luggage industry. And, for campers, sleeping bags and tents would be incomplete without the legendary zipper. We are certainly a “Z” nation (no zombies involved), and we often take the zipper for granted.

Well, that’s going to end today, as we celebrate everything Z-Z-Z-Z-I-P-P-E-R.

A Zippy History

In 1851, Elias Howe, the creator of the sewing machine, attempted to create the first zipper. He invented the “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure.” However, he never manufactured or marketed his new invention and therefore lost out on being recognized as the official inventor of the zipper. Whitcomb Judson and his “Clasp Locker” received the accolade forty-two years later

Unlike Howe, Judson was not giving up on his zipper idea. At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, he unveiled his more sophisticated zipper concept. It didn’t attract much publicity there, but he was up against a lot of competitive new inventions. People were more interested in riding Ferris’ massive wheel, smacking Juicy Fruit gum, and polishing off a box of Cracker Jacks to find a prize. However, because of the Fair’s international exposure, Judson was credited with inventing the zipper even before it was made available to the public.

Judson started the Universal Fastener Company and a Swedish-American employee, engineer Gideon Sundback, was granted the patent for the modern zipper on April 29, 1913. He called the invention the “Separable Fastener.”

Of course use of this nifty invention spread, and in 1923 B.F. Goodrich came up with the word zipper as it applied to boots and pouches that they made.

Things You May Not Know About Zippers

As I’ve been exploring everything “zipper” I’ve found some incredible facts to help you celebrate today.

  1. Zippers are roughly about 130 years old, but buttons have been around for over 4000 years.

  2. A company named YKK manufactures and sells 48% of all the zippers in the world. It has factories in 71 countries.

  3. At one time, zippers were thought to be morally wicked since they facilitate pulling off trousers quicker and easier.

  4. The first major buyer for the zipper was the U.S. military during World War I.

  5. The global market for zippers is estimated at 11 billion dollars per year.

  6. Over 1700 men go to hospital emergency rooms with zipper-related injuries. Ouch!

Celebrate Zippers!

In honor of the day, I thought I do some scientific research. I am keeping count of how many times I use a zipper on an average day. while Today, while writing this story, I’m up to 7 zips and it is only mid-afternoon! Face it, we would waste a great deal of time and effort opening, closing, and securing so many items if it weren’t for Howe, Judson, and Sundback’s creative invention.

In the college play I mentioned earlier, I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t even remember the name of it, much less any of the lines I performed, but the experience helped me to appreciate and understand the importance of zippers. Maybe now, you do too.

Zippety Do Dah, let’s celebrate!

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This work by Anel “Pookie” Ryan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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