Whitcomb L. Judson and the Invention that holds our life ‘together’

Whitcomb L. Judson
(1846 – 1909)

On August 29, 1893, American machine salesman, mechanical engineer and inventor Whitcomb L. Judson receives the patent for a “Clasp Locker”, today better known as the zipper, the mechanical little wonder that has kept so much in our lives ‘together.’ But first, the new invention showed only little commercial success. It took almost 80 years that the magazine and fashion industry made the novel zipper the popular item it is today.

Judson spent his most young life in Illinois, but later moved to Minnesota to become a traveling salesman. However, he has been inventing more or less usefull things from the mid 1880s on. First, he focussed on the ‘pneumatic street railway’ and his first patents were clearly going in that direction. Unfortunately, his inventions were quite impractical back then.

Whitcomb L. Judson
(1846 – 1909)

Throughout 16 years of inventing, Judson managed to file about 30 patents, one being the chain-lock fastener. It was the previour edition to our modern zipper and was developed in 1890. But Judson not only invented the zipper itself, but also a clasp locker system, automatically producting his fastener without high costs.

At first, he applied the zipper on shoes but already thought of gloved, corsets, and bags. His intention was originally to get rid of the boredom while fastening high button boots. his patent was filed in 1893 after long disputes with the examiner. Luckily the World’s Fair was held in Chicago the same year and Judson attempted to distribute the zipper with only moderate success, which would not change during his lifetime. He built impoved versions but still, the textile industry and and clothing manufactors showed not a great interest.

Later on, more inventors became curious about the zipper and built own improvements. In the 1920s, the U.S. Navy used these for their flying suits and right after, every imaginable kind clothing was equipped with Judsons invention. It was also in the 1920s when the term ‘zipper’ was officially coined by the B. F. Goodrich company.

At yovisto, you may enjoy a short discussion on ‘Where Good Ideas com From‘ by Steven Johnson

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