On Sept. 9, 1893, Scientific American magazine spotlighted the technological wonders at the Chicago World's Fair, along with 378 inventions granted patents by the U.S. Patent Office. Included were two patents to Whitcomb L. Judson for his slide fastener. The traveling machine salesman turned inventor had received 14 patents prior to this milestone; he would receive 14 more. None would have such a lasting effect. Few people realized the significance of Judson's "clasp locker or unlocker for shoes." At his World's Fair booth, amidst the rows of other gadgets, he sold only 20 of his complicated hook-and-eye fasteners.
He was not deterred. In 1894, the tireless inventor and his partners formed the Universal Fastener Company in Chicago-- which, 44 years later, would take the name Talon, Inc. While Judson's device was intended to secure shoes, his 1893 patent noted it might be useful for "fastening gloves, mail-bags and generally, wherever it is desired to detachably connect a pair of adjacent flexible parts." He continued to improve his "Judson C-curity Fastener" and obtained two patents in 1896. The most novel element, all who saw it agreed, was the "slider," which drew the guide together.
It would take a Swedish-born engineer to improve upon Judson's idea and capture public attention. Gideon Sundback came to the U.S. in 1906 to work on electric power systems, but became intrigued by Judson's invention and joined the company. What Sundback developed-- credited as the modern zipper-- is a marvel of creative engineering. Among its architectural innovations, Sundback's design increased the fastening elements, created two facing rows of teeth pulled into a single piece, and widened the opening for the teeth. He also invented macines that streamlined production and allowed an unlimited fastener length.
In 1913, the company, now in Pennsylvania, became the Hookless Fastener Company. Among its steady customers were nearby glovemakers. Other manufacturers began using the new fastener in handbags, tobacco pouches, and corsets. In 1923, the B.F. Goodrich Rubber Company placed a large order for fasteners for a new rain boot it called "The Zipper." The name stuck-- to the fastener, not the footwear. A few years later, the Hookless Company adopted the image of an eagle in its ads-- prompting its final name change in 1938 to Talon.
In its early years, the zipper was considered so extraordinary it came with instructions. Even so, by the mid-1930s, Talon was winning over the fashion industry. Fortune magazine reported in 1934, "Today there is scarcely a well-dressed child who does not have at least one zipper in his wardrobe." In 1937, the zipper won the "Battle of the Fly," when French fashion designers preferred its virtues over the button fly in men's clothing. Suddenly, Talon zippers were everywhere-- in Navy lifevests, in WWII leather bomber jackets, even in haute couture. In the 1950s and 1960s, the zipper joined forces with jeans to start a new fashion revolution.
Talon, the world's oldest zipper maker, has pioneered most of the innovations taken for granted today. Intricate, yet logical. Impressive and deceptively simple. The zipper has evolved from curiosity to necessity-- a living symbol of American ingenuity and inventiveness at its best.