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SATURDAY JOURNAL

A World Unzipped Is Unthinkable

Technology: Forget Y2K. If YKK's hardware were to fail, life as we know it would be rent asunder.

September 05, 1998|JOHN BALZAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At YKK, about 45% of production is brass zippers, and about half of these go into jeans, the No. 1 zipper product sold in America. Another 10% of YKK USA's zippers are aluminum. The final 45% are what we call plastic: polyester coil zippers, nylon molded-tooth zippers and rail zippers.

Not always has the zipper seemed such a universally benign idea. In Aldous Huxley's 1932 "Brave New World," social controllers want to lock up the Bible and other great books for centuries in favor of machinery. A character in the book objects, asking if it's not natural to believe in God.

Huxley's controller replies sarcastically: "You might as well ask if it's natural to do up one's trousers with zippers."

Of course it is, multitudes would respond today.

Look north, and you can imagine a man walking into an Alaskan roadhouse, stomping his boots and hanging an ice-encrusted parka on a nail. Does he give a thought to his zipper? Yes, I say, and fondly so.

Times researcher Anna M. Virtue contributed to this story.

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* The zipper was patented in 1917 by a Swedish immigrant but wasn't called a zipper until 1923.

* The average American buys one zipper a month, 12 a year, nearly 1,000 in a lifetime.

* Jeans are the No. 1 zipper product sold in America.

* The world's longest zipper is one mile long and on display at a Florida hotel cocktail lounge.

YKK is the world's largest zipper maker, producing 7 million zippers a day.

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