A to Z of Innovations at Expos: Zipper

A to Z of Innovations at Expos: Zipper

Fastening clothes and accessories may seem too simple to be the focus of an important innovation. Indeed, visitors to World Expo 1893 Chicago may have seen Whitcomb Judson’s “Clasp Locker” on display without realising how this device would be the predecessor of an overlooked everyday innovation: the zipper.

Developed as an alternative to laces on shoes and boots, Judson’s Clasp Locker was described as a ‘separable safety lock’, comprised of an arrangement of hooks and eyelets with a slide clasp for opening and closing. The device required a mechanical slide to bring together the two rows of joinable elements.

While Judson’s newly patented invention offered solutions for a number of objects requiring fastening, it was largely seen as complex and unpractical, with the ‘lock’ often jamming.

The development did not end there, however, with Swedish-born engineer Gideon Sundback in 1914 making improvements to Judson’s design, securing the mechanism by adding more teeth. By the 1920s, the name ‘Zipper’ was introduced, and a decade later its use became more widespread, notably in trousers and – by the 1950s - by NASA in the first pressurised spacesuits.

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