Gideon Sundback

Most commonly associated with his work in the development of the zipper, Gideon Sundback was born April 24 in 1880. He was a Swedish-American electrical engineer who was born on Sonarp farm in Ödestugu Parish, in Jönköping County, Småland, Sweden.After his studies in Sweden, Sundback moved to Germany, where he studied at the polytechnic school in Bingen am Rhein. In 1903, Sundback took his engineer exam. In 1905, he emigrated to the United States. In 1905, Gideon Sundback started to work at Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1906, Sundback was hired to work for the Universal Fastener Company in Hoboken, New Jersey. Subsequently, Sundback was promoted to the position of head designer at Universal Fastener

Sundback made several advances in the development of the zipper between 1906 and 1914, while working for companies that later evolved into Talon, Inc. He built upon the previous work of other engineers such as Elias Howe, Max Wolff, and Whitcomb Judson. He was responsible for improving the “Judson C-curity Fastener”. At that time the company’s product was still based on hooks and eyes. Sundback developed an improved version of the C-curity, called the “Plako”, but it too had a strong tendency to pull apart, and wasn’t any more successful than the previous versions. Sundback finally solved the pulling-apart problem in 1913, with his invention of the first version not based on the hook-and-eye principle, the “Hookless Fastener No. 1″. He increased the number of fastening elements from four per inch to ten or eleven. His invention had two facing rows of teeth that pulled into a single piece by the slider, and increased the opening for the teeth guided by the slide.

In 1914, Sundback developed a version based on interlocking teeth, the “Hookless No. 2″, which was the modern metal zipper in all its essentials. In this fastener each tooth is punched to have a dimple on its bottom and a nib or conical projection on its top. The nib atop one tooth engages in the matching dimple in the bottom of the tooth that follows it on the other side as the two strips of teeth are brought together through the two Y channels of the slider. The teeth are crimped tightly to a strong fabric cord that is the selvage edge of the cloth tape that attaches the zipper to the garment, with the teeth on one side offset by half a tooth’s height from those on the other side’s tape. They are held so tightly to the cord and tape that once meshed there is not enough play to let them pull apart. A tooth cannot rise up off the nib below it enough to break free, and its nib on top cannot drop out of the dimple in the tooth above it. U.S. Patent 1,219,881 for the “Separable Fastener” was issued in 1917.

The name zipper was created in 1923 by B.F. Goodrich, who used the device on their new boots. Initially, boots and tobacco pouches were the primary use for zippers; it took another twenty years before they caught on in the fashion industry. About the time of World War II the zipper achieved wide acceptance for the flies of trousers and the plackets of skirts and dresses.

Whitcomb L. Judson was a lover of gadgets and machines and the idea for his “clasp locker” came from when a friend had a stiff back from trying to fasten his shoes. Judson’s clasp locker was used mostly on mailbags, tobacco pouches and shoes. However, his design, like most first inventions needed to be fine-tuned. A more practical version came on the scene in 1913 when a Swedish-born engineer, Gideon Sundback revised Judson’s idea and made his with metal teeth instead of a hook and eye design. In 1917, Sundback patented his “separable fastener.” The name changed again when the B. F. Goodrich Co. used it in rubber boots, galoshes, and called it the “zipper” because the boots could be fastened with one hand. The 1940s brought about research in Europe of the coil zipper design. The first design was of interlocking brass coils. However, since they could be permanently bent out of shape, making the zipper stop functioning, it was rather bad for business and wasn’t too practical. The new design was improved after the discovery of stronger, more flexible synthetics.

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