The History of the Zipper

Did you know that the first attempt at creating the zipper came from the inventor of the sewing machine?

In 1851, Elias Howe, an American inventor best known for his creation of the modern lockstitch sewing machine, received a patent for the “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure”, a device similar to an elaborate drawstring.  However, Howe never marketed his invention and missed the recognition he may have received.

Forty-two years later, Whitcomb Judson began selling the “Clasp Locker.” Similar to Elias Howe’s patent, this device served as a more complicated hook-and-eye shoe fastener. Judson started the Universal Fastener Company, where he manufactured his new device and debuted it at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. However, he met with very little success.

In 1906, the Universal Fastener Company hired Gideon Sundback, a Swedish-American electrical engineer. Good technical skills and marriage to the plant manager’s daughter led Sundback to the position of Head Designer. Following the death of his wife in 1911, Sundback threw himself into his work and in 1917, he was granted a patent for the modern zipper, known then as the “Separable Fastener.”  The new design had two facing rows of teeth that were pulled together by a slider. Sundback also created the manufacturing machine for the new zipper and within the first year of operation, his zipper-making machine was producing a few hundred feet of fastener per day.

The popular “zipper” name came from the B.F. Goodrich Company, which decided to use Sundback’s fastener on a new type of rubber boots or goloshes and referred to it as the ‘zipper’. Boots and tobacco pouches with a zippered closure were the two main uses of the zipper during its early years.

It took more than 20 years for the fashion industry to seriously promote the zipper on garments. In the 1930s, a sales campaign began for children’s clothing featuring zippers. The campaign advocated zippers as a way to promote self-reliance in young children by allowing them to dress themselves.

The zipper was further cemented into clothing design in 1937 when the zipper beat the button in the “Battle of the Fly” with the zipper being declared the “Newest Tailoring Idea for Men” by Esquire magazine.

Today, the zipper is everywhere and is used in clothing, luggage and countless other objects.

Below are some interesting facts about this small but definitely important item:⠀

💡 Zippers are big business. According to Global Industry Analysts, the global market for zippers is estimated to be worth US$17.7 Billion in the year 2022 and  is projected to reach US$23.6 Billion by 2030*

💡 There are 4.5 billion zippers of all kinds consumed in the U.S. per year. That’s 14 zippers for every American per year.⠀

💡 YKK has the industry all zipped up: The company accounts for 46 percent of the global zipper market.⠀

💡 The letters YKK is the abbreviated name of a Japanese company, Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha which translates to “Yoshida Company Ltd.

💡 Every year, YKK produces enough zippers to wrap around the world 50 times. That’s 1.2 million miles of zippers! ⠀

💡 You can find YKK factories in 71 countries. The company makes zippers in 9,500 colours and has 20 shades of black in its colour library.

How many shades of black do you have in your zipper stash!!


*Research and Markets: Zippers - Global Strategic Business Report 2023

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