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Gideon Sundback, who did not invent the zipper, gets a Google Doodle

April 24, 2012|By Rene Lynch

Gideon Sundback -- the man who did not invent the zipper but did perfect it -- is the recipient today of a giant, interactive Google Doodle zipper.

It's a doodle to add zip to your day, honoring the birthday of the man who helped introduce the fastening device into everyday clothing. Look around -- there's a good chance you'll see Sundback's handiwork in nearly every item of clothing you own, save shirts and blouses.

Even sneakers sport zippers these days.

Sundback was born 132 years ago today in Sweden. He lived briefly in Germany before making his way to the U.S. and becoming the epitome of the American success story. He didn't actually invent the zipper. Such a device -- which uses metal teeth to pull two sides of material together -- had been dreamed up years before but was clumsy and easily came undone, undermining its usefulness.

Enter Sundback, who was hired as an electrical engineer by the Universal Fastening Co. Solving the dilemma for the company was a way for Sundback to deal with his broken heart. His wife -- the daughter of the plant manager -- had died. "The grieving husband busied himself at the design table and by December of 1913, he had designed the modern zipper," according to About.com's Inventors page.

Sundback perfected the device in part by adding more "teeth" per inch to give it greater flexibility, and little nibs that kept the teeth lined up with one another to add to its security.

"The patent for the 'Separable Fastener' was issued in 1917," according to About.com. But that name lacked a little something.

The B.F. Goodrich Co. dubbed the creation the "zipper" when using the device in its then-line of rubber boots. Still, it would take years before the fashion industry became hip to the zip.

That trend got a boost in the 1930s when companies began marketing the zipper to mothers as a way to help children easily dress themselves. The zipper officially overtook the button in the 1937 in the so-called "Battle of the Fly," according to About.com. That's when French fashion designers began inserting the zipper into men's pants.

And voila! The zipper had arrived.

So, today, as you zip up your wallet, your purse, your jeans, your jacket and even your sneakers, send up a thanks to Sundback. And if someone tries to pull that third-grade classic on you -- "Hey, your fly's open. Made ya look!" -- you'll have Sundback to thank / blame.

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