Background

The evolution of the zipper can be traced back to early human development. At some point in the ancient past, humans began to fasten their garments with devices.

Antecedents:

In ancient times, humans used pointed straight pins, made of bone and horn and eventually metal, to fasten their clothing. These pins had problems, however. They were hard to keep track of and pulled out easily during movement. They also created holes in fabric that grew worse with each use. Finally, there was the issue of people being stabbed by the point. The frog-and-loop fastener used an attached pin and a fixed site of tougher material for pin insertion to prevent the loss of the pin and fabric wear. Metal brooches and buckles were also used, and due to their larger form they were harder to lose and held more firmly. Safety pins were developed by the Romans and later rediscovered by Thomas Woodard in 1842. The internal spring was added by Walter Hunt in 1849 [1]. While the pin could no longer prick, loose pins were still not practical for certain types of clothing.

As close fitting clothing became popular in the Middle Ages, hooks and eyes and laces were developed. Hooks and eyes fastened quickly, but they were bulky, and the hook had a tendency to snag. Laces were less bulky and less likely to snag, but they required a longer dressing time [2].

Buttons and buttonholes removed many of those objections. Known since Roman times, buttons as used today were developed in the 13th Century. These buttons used reinforced buttonholes to prevent fabric wear. In the 14th and 15th Centuries, buttons became fashionable clothing fasteners. It was around this time that men and women’s buttoning customs diverged, a design that continues today. Nevertheless, garments used a number of buttons to create a tight closure, and fingers were not the best tools for maneuvering small buttons into small holes in a limited space. Buttoning became less time consuming with the creation of the buttonhook, a metal device used to pull the button through the hole [3].

Snap fasteners were an invention of the 19th Century. They were quicker to close and open without the necessity of a tool, but they were not as strong as buttons or laces, making them unsuitable for shoes [4].

High button shoes were fashionable and practical in the 19th Century, but with as many as twenty buttons and holes on each shoe, the shortcomings were clearly apparent in the time and attention devoted to buttoning [5]. Inventors began looking for the ultimate shoe fastener, a device that closed and opened in a single action with little time and attention needed. The shortcomings of existing ways for fastening shoes created a desire for a new method, which would lead to the creation of what is now known as the zipper.
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See sources here.

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