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Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty (Reprint)…
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Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty (Reprint)

by Robert D. Friedel

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Zips are so prevalent now, on clothing, luggage and a variety of other goods, that it's difficult to imagine doing without them. Although they are now cheap to make, they involve a surprising amount of advanced design and technology in their manufacture. As a child I remember being fascinated by how they worked, and never quite worked it out. I still haven't. This book is a detailed, popular history of how they came about. Reading it, one is left surprised that anyone ever managed to invent them at all.

This is a history of technology and of what it takes for technology to be adopted and become successful. It describes many attempts to make zips that basically just didn't work - and yet some of them were financially successful. What's also fascinating for the modern reader is that the original applications weren't ones that we see as key uses of the zip today (although zip purses are still a common use, overshoes certainly aren't for most of us.) The patent battles, company takeovers, sales techniques, advances in design and the popular perceptions of the zip through the years are all well described, and the book is also well-referenced. The book perhaps concentrates a little too much on the American perspective, although the rival European patent is discussed as are some of the early overseas licensing deals.

It's flawed in parts and at times it is dense reading, but overall this does a good job of achieving what it sets out to do. It's also excellent source reading for anyone generally interested in the general issues of adoption of technology in the consumer world. ( )
  kevinashley | Sep 28, 2013 |
This book is not amazing, but it's a competent pop history of a technology. Yes, zippers are a technology, and the book reviews the predecessors and early development of the zipper somewhat thoroughly (although it does not go enough into the patents and other documentation). It then veers off into bits of company histories and how zippers were perceived in U.S. culture. The book (or maybe its sequel?) could have benefited from more examination of these later points, of further technological advances in the zipper, and possible a more international scope at the end. ( )
  chellerystick | Aug 9, 2007 |
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I could stay young and chipper, And I'd lock it with a zipper, If I only had a heart. - Tin Woodman, in The Wizard of Oz (MGM, 1939)
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The September 9, 1893, edition of Scientific American ("The Most Popular Scientific Paper in the World") featured, as it had for weeks, articles about the spectacular world's fair then taking place on Chicago's Lake Michigan shore.
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In early 1937 the Hookless Fastener Company became Talon, Inc., and the company embarked on an ambitious advertising campaign, peppering major magazines with promotions for the zipper in men's clothes. In outlets like The New Yorker and Esquire, as well as the more plebeian Saturday Evening Post, Talon and other manufacturers pushed the notion that the well dressed, thoroughly modern man would consider nothing other than zippers in his trousers. This effort reinforced the continued approach to the manufacturers and major retailers. With a relative suddenness that startled the zipper makers, the gathering momentun of the generated demand came to a head in the late summer of 1937. Orders poured in in such numbers that the Meadville factories went to twenty-four-hour production, and the defiance of the nation's economic slump, which had been noteworthy before, now became astonishing. Talon rapidly overshadowed every other industry in the town, employing at the height of this boom more that five thousand workers in Meadville - out of a total population of less than nineteen thousand.
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It is almost impossible to imagine modern life without this device; yet for the first thirty years or so, from its patent in the late nineteenth century, it represented no real advantage over traditional fasteners like the hook-and-eye or the old-fashioned button. The zipper was mechanically awkward, liable to rust, liable to fail (i.e., snag or burst open), and so expensive that it doubled the retail price of a skirt or a pair of pants. But from the beginning the zipper had an allure, a mystery, a kind of sex appeal that would be echoed in songs, poems, and popular novels.Robert Friedel has written a fascinating history--full of strange twists, paradoxes, and interesting characters--of this signature gadget of the twentieth century. Inventor Whitcomb Judson (whose efforts lay mostly in patenting a doomed undertaking known as the Pneumatic Streetcar) gave the zipper life; businessman Colonel Lewis Walker had the capital and the faith to back it for forty years; and cultural icons such as Marlon Brando, Erica Jong, and the Rolling Stones helped to turn it into a symbol for sexuality and style.Not just the story of a distinctive technology, Zipper is an entertaining, informative examination of how new things become part of our daily lives, shaping how we think and act.… (more)

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