It took a number of improvements before the zip fastener was made popular and came to be commonly used in clothing and a number of other articles.
Zip fastener was first invented by an American named Elias Howe in 1851, by the name ‘Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure’. Howe was too busy to pay much attention to this invention and so it was never popularised.
Whitcomb L. Judson, another American, invented a zipper in order to help his friend who had a back problem and couldn’t do up his shoes. He called it ‘clasp locker’ The ‘clasp locker’ essentially was a slide fastener that could be opened or closed with one hand. This invention, patented in 1893, did not find much success as it was not practical to use.
It was an employee of Whitcomb Judson’s, Gideon Sundback who invented the zip fastener which we use today. Swedish bornscientist Sundback worked in Judson’s Universal Fastener Company. He worked on the Judson’s fastener which often came apart and created a more reliable fastener. The design of the fastener was based on the principle of interlocking teeth. He named it the ‘Hookless Fastener’ and patented it in 1913. He further improved upon it and patented it under the name ‘Separable Fastener’ in 1917.
Sunback also developed a machine to manufacture fasteners on a large scale. His biggest customer was B. F. Goodrich Company which used the fasteners in its new galoshes. The fasteners soon became very popular. It was Goodrich who coined the term ‘zipper’.
The earliest zippers were used to seal tobacco pouches, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that the zippers began to be used in the fashion industry.