ZIPPER! by Robert Friedel


An Exploratin in Novelty
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 Last year marked the centenary of the zipper, or at least of the date on which the US Government granted Whitcomb L. Judson two basic patents for this exemplary bit of Yankee ingenuity. In honor of the occasion, Friedel (History/Univ. of Maryland) has stitched together an uncommonly engaging account of how a technological curiosity became a ubiquitous, all-purpose fastener that now touches many, if not most, lives. The zipper traveled a long road from drawing board to marketplace and yielded its inventor precious few rewards. At the outset, in fact, it was a solution in search of a problem. Though sustained by the lonely passion of Lewis Walker, founder of the Hookless Fastener Co. (HFC), the zipper did not become a commercial success until the mid-1930s, when clothiers followed the lead of high-fashion designers like Schiaparelli and began incorporating slide fasteners in popularly priced apparel. Nor did the zipper make a name for itself; the word was coined (and trademarked) in 1925 by B.F. Goodrich for a short-lived line of galoshes. Engineering setbacks and price resistance apart, the author argues, the zipper has never ranked among life's basic necessities. Buttons, clasps, laces, and other contrivances, he points out, can still handle virtually any of its applications. Even so, Friedel recounts, the two-track closure has become a near universal artifact--and more. By way of example, he cites the zipper's centerpiece role in urban legend and modern literature, most notably, perhaps, Erica Jong's riffs on the pleasures of ``the zipless fuck.'' In the meantime, Talon Inc. (HFC's corporate name since 1937) twice lost its independence after WW II, most recently to Coats Viyella plc, a British multinational. The only evidence that the firm was once an economic mainstay of Meadville, Pa., lies in the local radio station's call letters--WZPR. A nicely calculated blend of cultural and business perspectives. (Photos--not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-393-03599-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1994