Adoption

After years of design the slide fastener had finally developed into a reliable, marketable device, but it would take several more years for the product to be widely adopted.

Before the slide fastener could be adopted, there had to be a demand for the product, and the Hookless Company needed to convince manufacturers that fasteners were a necessity to them. Colonel Lewis Walker, the company’s financial backer since Judson’s early designs, realized this adoption would not be an easy task. Manufacturers had to be persuaded to spend money on redesigning and readjusting their products, their machinery, and their budgets [1]. Other inventors, both American and foreign men and women, were also designing products similar to the slide fastener; however, none of those designs turned into manufactured products like Hookless No. 2.

Walker’s two sons were recruited to win over manufacturers, and they sold the first Hookless No. 2’s in 1914. The profits were one dollar. The company began by targeting department stores and garment makers. A buyer at McCreery’s Department Store in Pittsburgh responded quite positively, believing that the device would save time for saleswomen and customers in the fitting room. She introduced the company to garment designers in New York City, but the fastener found little success there. While some designers, garment makers, and buyers saw the value of the device, expectations of fashion, traditionalism, and economics prevented widespread acceptance [2].

Orders were slow as few manufacturers were willing to risk their reputations on an untried product. However, the Meadville factory was able to produce 1,630 flawless slide fasteners a day [3], and orders were beginning to pick up. America’s entry into World War I slowed the supply of materials, and the public began to lose interest. Nonetheless, the war proved to be good for the product. Hookless fasteners were put onto money belts for the military, as well as on flight suits for the air corps and life vests for the navy. The federal government released metal for the production of fasteners.

The end of the war led to a decline in demand, and the clothing industry was still not interested, but thousands of Americans were exposed to what was considered a novelty item. The Hookless Company realized it needed to be competitive in price to other fasteners. Sundback introduced his “scrapless” or S-L machine to make manufacturing more efficient. The S-L removed waste from the process, and hookless fasteners were made with only 41 percent of the metal used previously [4]. By 1921 hookless fasteners were selling large shipments for tobacco pouches and mail carriers, while improvements continued to be made on the product.

In 1921 the B.F. Goodrich Company ordered a large number of fasteners that actually exceeded the output of the factory. Goodrich revealed its project: the Mystic Boot, rubber galoshes using slide fasteners. However, salesmen were not happy with the name, and the company decided to use the action oriented word “zip.” In 1923 Zippers were first advertised as “made only by Goodrich” [5], and the Zipper Boot was released. The word zipper came to be used as a generic name for the slide fastener.

At this point, the Hookless Company’s name had become outdated. In 1928 the company began to refer to its product as “Talon,” in reference to the tenacious grip of a bird’s claw, and in 1937 the Hookless Company morphed into Talon, Inc [6]. By 1930 twenty million Talons were sold per year, for anything from pencil cases to engine covers. However, the clothing industry had still not caught on, and the zipper was mostly seen as a novelty item into the 1930s.

The zipper worked to gain its way into ordinary clothing with advertising. An important advertising effort was launched in the early 1930s by zipper manufactures for children’s clothing, though the campaign was short-lived [7]. However, less traditional work clothes, like overalls, were more inclined to make use of the device, and by 1937 the zipper turned a corner in fashion. By the late 1930s the zipper was incorporated into many men’s apparel from shoes to hunting jackets. Its convenience and reliability had made it both acceptable and desirable. Advertising campaigns in magazines, agreements with major male clothiers, and further improvements like the locking zipper, all worked to make the zipper a mainstay in fashion.

Women’s fashion also began using zippers. Among the first clothing designers to use the device was Elsa Schiaperelli, whose 1935 spring collection made extensive use of zippers [8]. The zippers were meant to call attention, and while those designs had limited broad appeal, the device would play a part in the new fad revolving around sleek, trim lines that began in 1937. Smaller, more secure zippers perfectly fit into this trend. Many designers began using the zipper, and advertising campaigns made sure of its success [9]. As zippers were adopted into apparel, the future of Talon, Inc. and its growing competition was secured.

In 1939 approximately three hundred million zippers were being sold. The years of World War II deprived American consumers of zippers, but they worked to catch up following the end of the war. By the end of the 1940s zipper sales were beyond a billion a year [10].

After decades devoted to the development of a working design, and several more years devoted to manufacturing, marketing, and adoption, the zipper found its place in American society.
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