Home Fashion + Beauty The Modern Day Zipper was Invented Right Here in Hoboken

The Modern Day Zipper was Invented Right Here in Hoboken

by Via Rutkowski
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When it comes to firsts, Hoboken has mastered a lot of them. From the invention of the Oreo to wireless cell phones, there are some smart cookies here (pun intended). But many don’t know that the zipper was also invented right here in Hoboken. We may not think much about zippers, but if there was a world without them we surely would feel the difference in how our clothing and accessories function. The standard zipper we know, love, and use daily has a more in-depth back story than one would expect. This design went on a long journey before officially landing on some of our favorite items. Before the zipper was patented and manufactured it passed through the hands of several brilliant inventors who struggled to perfect it. Over the course of 60 years, the zipper was finally perfected and patented right here in Hoboken. The zipper’s lengthy backstory serves as an important reminder that good things take time. Read on for more zipper history.

The Journey of The Zipper

history of the zipper hoboken

The very first rendition of the zipper was designed in 1851 by Elias Howe who was also the inventor of the modern sewing machine. He first called the device the “Automatic Continuous Clothing Closure” but it never seemed to take off as its functionality wasn’t usable for everyday life. After Howe, a man named Whitcomb Judson stepped in over 40 years later. Judson created a similar device called the “Clasp Locker” that finally made it to the market. In 1893, Howe collaborated with businessman Colonel Lewis Walker to begin manufacturing the new device. Together, they started the Universal Fastener Company but unfortunately did not experience much commercial success. For nearly 10 years, Judson worked tirelessly on improving the zipper for optimal manufacturing and eventually gave up in 1904.

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The Official Patent

offical patent of the zipper

Then in 1906 came Gideon Sundback, a young Swedish electrical engineer who was determined to take over and finish the job. Sundback was an employee at the Automatic Hook and Eye Company which was located at the corner of Adams Street and Eleventh Street in Hoboken. Several years later in 1913 Sundback finally created a version of the zipper that was flawlessly functional and was called a “Separable Fastener”. In August of 1914, Sundback officially filed to have the “Separable Fastener” patented and was officially accepted in March of 1917. The official copy of the patent issued by the United States Patent Office can be seen in the book titled 100 Hoboken Firsts by Jim Hans, published by the Hoboken Historical Museum and available at the Hoboken Public Library.

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On top of the perfected version of the zipper, Sundback also went on to develop a machine and manufacturing process for the modern zipper to help his invention reach the masses. According to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, “the ‘S-L’ machine took a special Y-shaped wire and cut scoops from it, punching dimples to create teeth”. This machine allowed for the production of “hundreds of feet of fastener per day”, significantly speeding up the manufacturing process and allowing zippers to begin flowing into mainstream fashion. Eventually in 1923, industrialist B.F. Goodrich came up with the term “zipper” which was inspired simply by the sliding sound of the device- an onomatopoeia. In 1925 the word “zipper” was officially trademarked.

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The Popularity of Zipper

modern zipper

While Sundback made great strides as the inventor of the zipper it took some time for his invention to gain popularity. Designer Elsa Schiaparelli of The House of Schiaparelli became one of the first fashion designers to embrace the use of zippers in her designs. She not only used them for function but also as an accent. In the 1930s she began using colorful zippers as decorative elements in her designs including sportswear and evening dresses dramatically increasing their popularity.

history of zipper hoboken

Soon zippers were everywhere and became an important part of clothing and functionality. Zippers also began a new wave of children’s clothing by allowing them to have more independence by dressing themselves with ease. Suddenly dozens of buttons were not a necessity and even opened the door for updates on the US military uniforms which were an essential part of WWII. So next time you mindlessly zip up your jacket take a moment to pause and think of its long history and give an extra nod to its Hoboken roots.

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