By Kendall Embrescia
Ice Skating. Boots. Jackets. Bustier. Pockets. Boat covers. Tents. Prom. School supplies. Car covers. Fashion. Running. Slacks. Punk. Laundry bags. Purses. Horse tack. Baby clothes. Mail carriers. Camera cases. Hip sacks. Halloween. Seduction. Travel. Wallets. Skiing. Matrimony. Jumpsuits.
A routinely used mechanism connects all of the above objects, occasions, and activities… one that links each word together in one way or another, as it equally splits them apart. And when this often overlooked device fails us or has a major malfunction, we can get caught up (literally!) in that moment, usually unable to forge ahead. Extreme force, a lot of wiggle, and even gritting teeth are techniques we use to resolve these issues. Sometimes aggressively, yes emotionally, and ultimately scaled with great passion by most measures. On the flip, when this little agent works properly, it simplifies our life and brings an abundance of leisure and convenience into our daily activities. So deeply embedded into the rituals of life, this little instrument hums it’s own tune…zip zip zip ziiippppppppp! This very underrated, overworked, miniature, and fasten-ating piece of merchandise is threaded throughout so many of life’s commonalities…ladies and gentlemen, a standing ovation for the zipper.
Whether it’s the one way non-separating, light weight, brass, two way non-separating, aluminum, one end closed, medium weight, one way separating, heavy weight, the two way separating, plastic, coiled or uncoiled, the zipper’s got it together. If however, this inexpensive little gadget with tremendous purpose fails, you’ll be in a grandiose hamper…along with your item, which will be off for repair or replacement. Which is exactly what happened when the pre-existing name for the speedy little slider changed to what we now know it as today, the zipper. This name originated right here in Akron, Ohio.
There are a-half dozen inventors that hold patents on modifications and improvements to what was first called, “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure.” Created by Elias Howe in 1851, the inventor of the sewing machine, the “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure” never did “get out there.” His “closure” was a series of clasps on each side that connected to one another, but not like the everyday sliders of today’s modern zipper. It is said that the success of the sewing machine overshadowed the marketing of his “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure” invention.
With the arrival of the 1890’s, a Chicago-based engineer by the name of Whitcomb Judson entered into the picture. Similar to Howe’s 1851 invention, Whitcomb was the first one to market his “Clasp Locker” publicly, and is therefore credited as being the inventor of the zipper (although at this time the little mechanism wasn’t yet called the zipper). His creation was a shoe fastener, a hook-and-eye slide fastener…almost comparable to two small chains and an alternating hook-and-eye. It was also called the “Unlocker for Shoes.” Whitcomb partnered with businessman Colonel Lewis Walker, and formed The Universal Fastener Company to manufacture and sell the fasteners, but because his little machine filled more of a niche market than multipurpose functionality, the devices never sold too well. In 1905, Johnson created the C-curity, a clasp directed toward woman for skirts and dresses. This too failed to find success, as it is said to have been too bulky and had “technical deficiencies.”
Enter Mr. Gideon Sundback, a Swedish-born electrical engineer who joined the team at Universal Fastener Company. Sundback made advancements to Johnson’s C-curity clasp, which proved to be more profitable than Johnson’s version, although the clasp still wasn’t flexible enough to stay closed. In 1912, Gideon completely shifted gears from the hook-and-eye concept, and created an entirely new concept…the Hookless #1. The Hookless #1 resembled today’s Ziploc fastener, except one side was made of a cloth tape with a beaded edge that fit into metal clamps on the opposite side. The problem with the Hookless #1 fastener was that after only a few times of use it would stop working. About thirteen months after the release of the Hookless #1, Sundback made adjustments and released the Hookless #2…what we know as today’s modern zipper. After a name change to the “Separable Fastener” in 1917 and a few more tweaks, it was a hit. The United States Army was a maiden customer of the “Separable Fastener,” used for the troops’ clothing and gear in World War I.
Step in, Akron…B.F. Goodrich to be exact. B.F. Goodrich marketed galoshes that used Sundback’s fasteners. The galoshes were modish. Just one pull and your galosh was fastened using only one hand. What a zip! And, the melodious sound of the interlocking teeth as it sealed the foot inside the boot. Zzzzziiiiiiiiiippppppppp! These seren-zip-idous moments at B.F. Goodrich would refashion this novelty into a banality and open the door to worldwide zipper domination. In 1923 B.F. Goodrich named their galoshes Zipper Boots, and in 1925 the zipper was originally trademarked explicitity for overshoes and fasteners under the company name. Because the Zipper Boots were so popular, so it was that once and for all, the zipper was met with big commercial success. As the zipper zipped into many other articles of clothing, so did the B.F. Goodrich coined name zipper.
In the latter days of the 1920’s, the University of Akron held a campus-wide contest to name the athletics at the university. It was freshman Margaret Hamlin’s entry that fixed as the team’s moniker, the Zippers. Shortened in 1950 by athletic director Kenneth Red Cochrane, the Zips nickname endures the namesake to probably one of the most neglected accessories of them all.