Design Moment: Zip, 1913

It took over 20 years before tailors began to use the zip for trousers instead of buttons

Today the zip market is a €11.2 billion industry dominated by Japan’s YKK Group. Photograph: iStock

Today the zip market is a €11.2 billion industry dominated by Japan’s YKK Group. Photograph: iStock

 

At the Design Museum in London a display of important everyday objects includes the humble zip with the note that “the zip is so ubiquitous that you overlook what a genius piece of engineering it is”.

The search to create a new type of fastener began in the United States in 1851 with the invention of  “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure” by sewing machine inventor Elias Howe. More like an advanced version of the hook and eye closing, it remained undeveloped until 1913 when Swedish immigrant, engineer Gideon Sundback working for the Universal Fastener Company modified the design by creating his “Separable Fastener”, two rows of metal teeth on a strip of fabric tapel that could be joined by a slider. It was patented in 1917.

The catchier name came later when the BF Goodrich Company used Sundback’s device on its rubber galoshes calling the closure a zipper in the US (or zip in Europe). The name stuck but it took a while for the fastener to catch on and find more uses.

It was more than 10 years until clothing manufactures took to the zip particularly for children’s clothes and it took until the late 1930s for tailors to start using zips instead of buttons in men’s trousers. Today the zip market is a €11.2 billion industry dominated by Japan’s YKK Group.