In the early days, they weren’t called zippers, nor were they “morally acceptable” to a certain crowd of self-righteous critics. Moral crusaders proclaimed that the convenient fastener was a corrupt invention that made it too easy to remove one’s pants. However, the handy mode of fastening gained popular acceptance after the United States military ignored critics and used them in uniforms and field gear during the first World War.
A rudimentary fastening system was introduced to the American public on November 7, 1891 by Whitcomb Judson. His invention was called the clasp-locker. The “Judson C-curity Fastener” was a somewhat cumbersome, complicated arrangement of hooks and eyes which engaged with a guide to close and open it.
The common fastener we know and love today had its beginnings in Hoboken, New Jersey, thanks to an immigrant from Småland, Sweden. Otto Fredrik Gideon Sundback was the son of a prosperous farmer. Following his basic education in Sweden, Gideon Sundback studied at a polytechnical school in Germany. In 1905, he passed his engineering examination, then Sundback emigrated to the US.
Following a short employment at Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing in Pittsburgh, Sundbeck was hired by the Universal Fastener Company, the company that made the “Judson C-curity Fastener”. After several unsuccessful attempts to replace the cantankerous hook and eye system, Sundbeck invented the “Hookless Fastener No.1”. It had two rows of metal teeth that faced each other. The rows were pulled together and separated by a “slider”.
Sundbeck also came up with the design for the machine that manufactured the hookless fastener. The device enabled the company to make about 100-metres of fastener per day.
In 1923, the B.F. Goodrich rubber company decided to use the Hookless Fastener for a line of premium galoshes. Legend has it, that an employee, who was trying on a pair, exclaimed “Zip ‘er up!” after he heard the sound of the hookless fastener as the slider engaged the teeth. Company bigwigs made the next logical step and coined the name “zipper”. B.F. Goodrich registered the name “Zipper” as a trademark in 1925.
Just as later products like “Kleenex” and “Xerox Copiers” had difficulty controlling their trademarks from use as popular names, the catchy name “Zipper” suffered the same fate. It’s much easier to say “zipper” instead of “hookless fastener”. The Canadian Supreme Court heard and dismissed a challenge by the Lightning Fastener Company to the exclusive right of B.F. Goodrich to the name “Zipper”. Eventually, Goodrich’s trademark was limited to the tradename, “Zipper Boots”.
These days we find zippers in use for various articles of clothing, accessories, and for decoration. The most successful zipper manufactures include Opti, Olympic, and YKK.