On August 29, 1893, Whitcomb L. Judson, a mechanical engineer in Chicago, received a patent for the first “clasp-locker”—a series of clunky eyes and hooks that fastened together with a slider. Judson replaced the long, buttonhooked shoelaces on his boots and the boots of his business partner, Lewis Walker, with clasp-lockers.
Unable to interest any manufacturers in his new-fangled gadget, Judson and Walker displayed the invention at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair—where it was virtually ignored by the twenty-one million attendees.
Eventually, the United States Postal Service placed an order for twenty mailbags fastened with Judson’s clasp-lockers, but the clasp-lockers jammed too often to make the bags useful. Judson died in 1909—before perfecting his invention or finding a practical use for it.
In 1913, Swedish-American engineer Gideon Sundback perfected Judson’s invention by replacing the cumbersome hook-and-eye design with a more reliable and less bulky meshed-tooth slider fastener. During World War I, the
United States Army ordered Sundback’s invention for use on uniforms and equipment. Manufacturers began using the metal slide fasteners on boots, change purses, and money belts—and eventually on clothing. Since few people knew how to use the slide fasteners, clothing manufacturers included small instruction booklets on how to operate and maintain the contraption. In 1922, the B. F. Goodrich Company gave the trademark Zipper to its new rubber galoshes with new “hookless fasteners.” Goodrich reportedly coined the word “zipper,” onomatopoeia for the sound the device made when he zipped up his boots. The catchy name made the zipper a household word and a common fastener on clothing. In 1935, fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli introduced a line of clothing bursting with decorative colored zippers of various sizes, turning the zipper into a popular fashion statement.