Zipper

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Overview

The story of the zipper is the triumph of an ingenious novelty over the practical world.
It is almost impossible to imagine modern life without this device; yet for the first thirty years or so, from its patent in the late nineteenth century, it represented no real advantage over traditional fasteners like the hook-and-eye or the old-fashioned button. The zipper was mechanically awkward, liable to rust, liable to fail (i.e., snag or burst open), and so expensive that it doubled ...
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Overview

The story of the zipper is the triumph of an ingenious novelty over the practical world.
It is almost impossible to imagine modern life without this device; yet for the first thirty years or so, from its patent in the late nineteenth century, it represented no real advantage over traditional fasteners like the hook-and-eye or the old-fashioned button. The zipper was mechanically awkward, liable to rust, liable to fail (i.e., snag or burst open), and so expensive that it doubled the retail price of a skirt or a pair of pants. But from the beginning the zipper had an allure, a mystery, a kind of sex appeal that would be echoed in songs, poems, and popular novels.
Robert Friedel has written a fascinating history—full of strange twists, paradoxes, and interesting characters—of this signature gadget of the twentieth century. Inventor Whitcomb Judson (whose efforts lay mostly in patenting a doomed undertaking known as the Pneumatic Streetcar) gave the zipper life; businessman Colonel Lewis Walker had the capital and the faith to back it for forty years; and cultural icons such as Marlon Brando, Erica Jong, and the Rolling Stones helped to turn it into a symbol for sexuality and style.
Not just the story of a distinctive technology, Zipper is an entertaining, informative examination of how new things become part of our daily lives, shaping how we think and act.

The zipper was invented 100 years ago by Whitcomb Judson, a frustrated man with a penchant for complexity. This book tells the fascinating story of how a useless technological novelty worked its way into daily life and took its place as one of the defining artifacts of the 20th century. Photos.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
“A fascinating story....Zipper celebrates a wonderful bit of Americana, to be sure, but it's a serious work of history as well.”
Baltimore Sun
“An interesting and well-researched book. After reading it, you'll never again secure your trousers or evening dress in quite the same way.”
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
How the ingenious zipper, a newfangled, unwanted novelty, became a ubiquitous part of daily life is the story told in this engaging chronicle peopled by a colorful cast of characters. The zipper can be traced to oddball Chicago inventor Whitcomb Judson, whose awkward shoe fastener, patented in 1893, never quite caught on. Col. Lewis Walker, a suave Pennsylvania lawyer and investor, made the hookless fastener his mission, enlisting the help of Otto Gideon Sundbach, a Swedish immigrant engineer who improved on Judson's invention with a 1917 patent that revolutionized the modern zipper. Friedel, a historian of technology at the University of Maryland, ably explores the advent of the zipper as adornment on trousers and purses in America's flapper decade, as a badge of modernity in Hitler's mechanized Third Reich and as a sexual, social and political symbol appropriated by Aldous Huxley, Marlon Brando, the anti-Nazi satirist Kurt Tucholsky, the Rolling Stones and Erica Jong. Photos not seen by PW . (Apr.)
Library Journal
Today the zipper seems a commonplace if not insignificant piece of our lives. Behind this tiny piece of technology, however, lies a story rich in manufacturing, economics, fashion, engineering, and , most importantly , personalities. Friedel, a historian of technology, examines all these topics in this tale of the ``hookless fastener'' (a.k.a., the zipper) from its 1890s origin through the 40 years of refinement and eventual acceptance in the 1930s and up to the present day. Enjoyable and readable, Friedel's saga of the zipper provides him with the perfect means to peer inside technology's origin, revealing its capacity to fill needs and showing how novelty pushes us to the future. Recommended for all collections.-- Michael D. Cramer, Virginia Polytechnic & State Univ. Libs., Blacksburg
Booknews
A history of the hookless fastener, an invention that triumphed despite some initial technical problems, such as the tendency to snag or burst open, and became an important part of modern life. Friedel teaches the history of science and technology at the U. of Maryland, College Park. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393313659
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/1/1996
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 306
  • Sales rank: 912,664
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Friedel is a professor of the history of technology and science at the University of Maryland, College Park. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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