• Elias Howe, one of the pioneer inventors of the sewing machine, patented an early type of zipper in 1851 called The Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure. His sewing machine took up most of his time, and he abandoned his early type of fastener.
• The next person in the line of zipper evolution was named Whitcomb Judson. A tinkerer and experimenter, Judson invented many labor saving devices, including a type of fastener he patented called The Clasp Locker in 1893. Some of these fasteners were used by 1905 in the garment industry, but proved to be impractical.
• The next step in zipper evolution led to the zipper as it is known today. An employee of Judson’s named Gideon Sundback first patented his Hookless Fastener in 1913, and with further improvements patented the new and improved version as the Separable Fastener in 1917. One of the first large customers for this fastener was the U.S. Army and the fastener was used in apparel and gear for U.S soldiers in World War One.
• How did the fastener get the name ‘zipper’? The B.F.Goodrich company opted to use the new fasteners on its rubber galoshes. An executive trying out a prototype of the galoshes by sliding the fastener up and down, and said, “Zip’er up!”, emulating the sound made by the fastener. Thus the name zipper came into being. The story sounds apocryphal, but B.F. Goodrich registered the name as a trademark for overshoes with fasteners, Zipper Boots, in 1925. Other items began using the fastener, and the name ‘zipper’ stuck. B.F. Goodrich sued to protect its trademark, but was only allowed to retain its rights for ‘Zipper Boots’ and not for the name of the fastener.
• For the first twenty years of the zipper’s existence it was used almost exclusively for boots and tobacco pouches.
• In the 1930’s sales campaigns for children’s clothing that were equipped with zippers stressed the independence the fastener would give children to dress themselves. When French fashion designer in 1937 raved about the zipper being used in men’s pants, the zipper replaced buttons for fastening the fly of men’s trousers.
Clothing with zippers was seen as inappropriate for women because the clothing could be taken off quickly. Many religious leaders frowned on the use of zippers for this reason, and zippers were found mostly in men’s and children’s apparel for a number of years.
Zippers today are made not only from metal, but nylon and other materials. They are available in many different colors, lengths and styles.