LII: YKK

Do you own anything with a zipper? I bet you do. Go find it. Take a look at that little zipper. What does it say? Does it say “YKK”? It does? How did I know that?

Boom. I’m psychic.

Just kidding (although being psychic would be kind of awesome). The reason I know that the zipper on whatever piece of clothing you are holding has the letters “YKK” on it is because almost every zipper in existence has those letters, and they’re there for a reason.

The zipper was patented by Elias Howe (most famous for inventing the sewing machine) in 1851 under the name “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure”. However, he did not try seriously to market it, and the zipper as we know it did not become widely used until much later. It was reintroduced as the “Clasp Locker” in 1892 by Whitcomb Judson, inventor of the pneumatic streetcar, who tried to market it at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair with little success. Judson founded the Universal Fastener Company to sell his product and rebranded it as the Fastener Manufacturing and Machine Company in 1901 when the company moved to Hoboken, New Jersey.

In Hoboken, Judson hired electrical engineer Gideon Sundback in 1906. Sundback was recognized for his great technical skills, and his marriage to the plant manager’s daughter Elvira Aronson secured his place as head designer for Judson’s fastener. Sundback moved with the company to Meadville, Pennsylvania, where it operated under the name Talon, Inc. After Elvira’s death in 1911, Sundback devoted himself completely to perfecting the design of Judson’s fastener, and by the end of 1913, Sundback had designed the zipper as we know it today. The rights to the invention were owned by Talon, Inc., in the United States, but Sundback owned the rights to his invention in Canada, where he later moved to found the Lightning Fastener Company, leading to the common misconception that the zipper is a Canadian invention.

Sorry Canada.

Anyway, Sundback received a patent for what he called the “Separable Fastener” in 1917, as well as patents for the device used to manufacture the zipper, also designed by Sundback. In its early days, the S-L machine, as it was called, could produce about 100 feet of zipper teeth per day.

The zipper received its brief, catchy name in 1923 from the B. F. Goodrich Company. B. F. Goodrich produced galoshes and wanted to use the zipper on the side of the rubber boots. They shortened its name from “separable fastener” to “zipper,” possibly inspired by the sound it made. The zipper was used almost exclusively on galoshes and tobacco pouches until clothing company Schott NYC used it on leather jackets in 1925. In 1937, Esquire¬†declared the zipper the best closure for the fly on men’s trousers, and today it is the most widely used closure on essentially all products that require closures.

In 1934, a company called San-es Shokai was founded in Tokyo to specialize in marketing fasteners of all types. The company picked up on the success of the zipper, and by 1994, it was the world’s largest producer of zippers, operating under the name Yoshida Manufacturing Shareholding Company, or in the original Japanese, Yoshida Kogyo Kabushiki KaishiYKK. All their fastening products bear their acronym, and since they are the world’s largest zipper manufacturer, that means most zippers in the world come from that company and therefore read “YKK”.

You’re looking at all the zippers on everything you own to see if you can find one that doesn’t say “YKK,” aren’t you? Silly goose.

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