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Plastic and nylon zippers.

A zipper (British English: zip or (rarely) zip fastener) is a popular device for temporarily joining two edges of fabric. It is used in clothing (e.g., jackets and jeans), luggage and other bags, sporting goods, camping gear (e.g., tents and sleeping bags), and other daily use items.



The bulk of a zipper consists of two strips of fabric tape, each affixed to one of the two pieces to be joined, carrying from tens to hundreds of specially shaped metal or plastic teeth. These teeth can be either individual or shaped from a continuous coil, and are also referred to as elements.[2] The slider, operated by hand, moves along the rows of teeth. Inside the slider is a Y-shaped channel that meshes together or separates the opposing rows of teeth, depending on the direction of the slider's movement.

Some zips have two slides, allowing variation in the opening's size and position. In most jackets and similar garments, the opening is closed entirely when one slide is at each end. In most baggage, the opening is closed entirely when the two slides are next to each other at any point along the zipper.

Zippers may:

  • increase or decrease the size of an opening to allow or restrict the passage of objects, as in the fly of trousers or in a pocket.
  • join or separate two ends or sides of a single garment, as in the front of a jacket, dress or skirt.
  • attach or detach a separable part of the garment to or from another, as in the conversion between trousers and shorts or the connection / disconnection of a hood and a coat.
  • decorate an item.

These variations are achieved by sewing one end of the zipper together, sewing both ends together, or allowing both ends of the zipper to come completely apart.

A zipper costs relatively little, but if it fails, the garment may be unusable until the zipper is repaired or replaced -- which can be quite difficult and expensive. Problems often lie with the zipper slider; when it becomes worn it does not properly align and join the alternating teeth. If a zipper fails, it can either jam (i.e. get stuck) or partially break off.



Hook and eye model

An early device superficially similar to the zipper, "an Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure", was patented in the United States by Elias Howe in 1851. Unlike the zipper, Howe's invention had no slider; instead a series of clasps slid freely along both edges to be joined, with each clasp holding the two sides together at whichever pair of points along them it was located. The clasps were joined together by a string, which, when pulled taut, caused the clasps to be evenly spaced along the closure, thus holding the two edges together. Pulling in the other direction caused the clasps to become bunched up at one end, by which means the device was opened. [1]

The true zipper was the product of a series of incremental improvements over more than twenty years, by inventors and engineers associated with a sequence of companies that were the progenitors of Talon, Inc. This process began with a version called the "clasp locker", invented by American born inventor Whitcomb L. Judson of Chicago (previously of Minneapolis and New York City) in Akron, Ohio, and for which a patent (No. 504,038) was first applied on Nov. 7, 1891. It culminated in 1914 with Gideon Sundbäck's invention of the "Hookless Fastener No. 2", the first version of the zipper without any major design flaws and essentially indistinguishable from modern zippers.

Initial versions of the zipper were based on the "hook and eye" principle, rather than on interlocking teeth, and tended to come apart easily. Some versions depended on constant pressure from one side of the joined fabric in order to hold together at all, which limited applications. In the 1891 version, the slider detached entirely from the zipper when not being used to open or close.

Judson, together with business partner Harry Earle, founded the first incarnation of what was to eventually become Talon Inc., in Chicago in 1894, as the Universal Fastener Company. The design deficiencies, combined with difficulties in getting the machinery needed for mass production to work, prevented the early devices from reaching market, which led to financial hardships for the company. This in turn led to a series of reorganizations and name changes, as well as relocations, first to Catasauqua, Pennsylvania; then to Elyria, Ohio; Hoboken, New Jersey; and finally Meadville, Pennsylvania.

Interlocking teeth model

Gideon Sundbäck, a Swedish-born engineer, joined the company, then called the Automatic Hook and Eye Company, in Hoboken, in 1906. At that time the company's product, still based on hooks and eyes, was called the "C-curity Fastener". Sundbäck developed an improved version of the C-curity, called the "Plako", but it too had a strong tendency to pull apart, and wasn't any more successful than the previous versions. Sundbäck finally solved the pulling-apart problem in 1913, with his invention of the first version not based on the hook-and-eye principle, the "Hookless Fastener No. 1".

Zipper slider brings together the two sides

That version, however, had a tendency to wear out quickly, and again was not a commercial success. Finally, in 1914 Sundbäck developed a version based on interlocking teeth, the "Hookless No. 2", which was the modern metal zipper in all its essentials. In this fastener each tooth is punched to have a dimple on its bottom and a nib or conical projection on its top. The nib atop one tooth engages in the matching dimple in the bottom of the tooth that follows it on the other side as the two strips of teeth are brought together through the two Y channels of the slider. The teeth are crimped tightly to a strong fabric cord that is the selvage edge of the cloth tape that attaches the zipper to the garment, with the teeth on one side offset by half a tooth's height from those on the other side's tape. They are held so tightly to the cord and tape that once meshed there is not enough play to let them pull apart - - a tooth cannot rise up off the nib below it enough to break free, and its nib on top cannot drop out of the dimple in the tooth above it. The classic zipper was made of a brass alloy, a metal that has low friction and is long-wearing.

Sundbäck's invention of the Hookless No. 2 took place while he was working for the Hookless Fastener Company in Meadville, which had previously been set up to manufacture the Hookless No. 1. Depending on which improvement one wants to consider to constitute the "invention" of the zipper, the zipper was invented either in Meadville, Chicago, or one of the other previously mentioned cities. The B.F. Goodrich Company coined the name Zipper in 1923 for the line of rubber overshoes that it made using the fastener, adopting the term to refer to the speed with which the new overshoes could be fastened or unfastened. The name slowly came to be associated with the fastener itself, and eventually acquired generic status.

The zipper slowly became popular for children's clothing and men's trousers in the 1920s and 1930s. In the early 1930s the haute couture designer Elsa Schiaparelli featured zippers in her avant-garde gowns, helping it to become acceptable in women's clothing. In 1934, Tadao Yoshida founded a company called San-S Shokai in downtown Tokyo. Later, this company would change its name to YKK Yoshida Kōgyō Kabushiki-gaisha and become the world's largest manufacturer of zippers and fastening products. By World War II, the zipper had become widely used in Europe and North America, and after the war quickly spread through the rest of the world.

Today, such global companies as ZEE,YKK, EMR ZIPPER, NEO Zipper, Olympic Zippers Ltd, Opti, TALON, Ideal, KCC Group, Tex Corp, RiRi, ARTA-F, HSD ZIPPER,H ZIPPER,A ZIPPER,make various types of zippers including "invisible" zippers, metallic zippers, and plastic zippers.

On a CBC-produced miniseries aired in January 2007, The Greatest Canadian Invention; the Zipper placed at No. 8 on the list. It qualified because Sundbäck had been president of a Canadian-based company that was one of the earliest manufacturers of the zipper. While Sundbäck lived occasionally in Canada while supervising his company (The Lightning Fastener Company of Canada), he always remained an American citizen.


Example of a coil zipper.
  • Coil zippers now form the bulk of sales of zippers worldwide. The slider runs on two coils on each side; the "teeth" are the coils. Two basic types of coils are used: one with coils in spiral form, usually with a cord running inside the coils; the other with coils in ladder form, also called the Ruhrmann type. This second type is now used only in a few parts of the world, mainly in South Asia. Coil zippers are made of polyester coil and are thus also known as polyester zippers. Nylon was formerly used and though only polyester is used now, the type is still known as a nylon zipper.
  • Invisible zippers' teeth are behind the tape. The tape's color matches the garment's, as does the slider, so that, except the slider, the zipper is "invisible". This kind of a zipper is common in skirts and dresses. Invisible zippers are usually coil zippers. They are also seeing increased use by the military and emergency services due to the fact that the appearance of a button down shirt can be maintained, while having a quick and easy system.
  • Metallic zippers are the classic zipper type, found mostly in jeans today. The teeth are not a coil, but are individual pieces of metal moulded into shape and set on the zipper tape at regular intervals. Metal zippers are made in brass, aluminium and nickel, according to the metal used for teeth making. All these zippers are basically made from flat wire. A special type of metal zipper is made from pre-formed wire, usually brass but sometimes other metals too. Only a few companies in the world have the technology. This type of pre-formed metal zippers is mainly used in high grade jeanswear, workwear, etc., where high strength is required and zippers need to withstand tough washing.
  • Plastic-molded zippers are identical to metallic zippers, except that the teeth are plastic instead of metal. Metal zippers can be painted to match the surrounding fabric; plastic zippers can be made in any color of plastic. Plastic zippers mostly use polyacetal resin though other resins are used as well, such as polyethylene.
  • Open-ended zippers use a "box and pin" mechanism to lock the two sides of the zipper into place, often in jackets. Open-ended zippers can be of any of the above specified types.
  • Closed-ended zippers are closed at both ends; they are often used in baggage.

Airtight / Watertight zippers

Waterproof zipper on a diving dry suit. The exterior metal segments clamp the waterproof sheeting over the individual zipper teeth. The zipper teeth are not visible in this image.

Airtight zippers were first developed by NASA for making high-altitude pressure suits and later space suits, capable of retaining air pressure inside the suit in the vacuum of space.

The airtight zipper is built like a standard toothed zipper, but with the zipper teeth wrapped in a fabric-reinforced polyethylene sheeting. The sheeting is then crimped around each zipper tooth using a C-shaped metal clip. As the zipper is closed, the facing edges of the plastic sheeting are pressed together between the C-shaped clips, both above and below the zipper teeth.

This double-mated surface is good at both retaining vacuum and pressure, but the fit must be very tight to press the surfaces together firmly. Consequently these zippers are typically very stiff when zipped shut and have very minimal flex or stretch. They are hard to open and close because the zipper anvil must bend apart teeth that are being held together by the tough plastic sheeting. They can also be derailed and chew up the sealing surfaces if the teeth are misaligned while straining to pull the zipper shut.

These zippers are very common where airtight or watertight seals are needed, such as on scuba diving dry suits, ocean survival suits, and on hazmat suits.

A second, less common water-resistant zipper is similar in construction to a standard toothed zipper, plus a molded plastic ridge seal similar to the mating surfaces on a ziploc bag. It is much easier to open and close, and the slider has a gap above the zipper teeth for separating the ridge seal. However, this ridge seal is structurally weak against internal pressure, and can be separated by pressure within the sealed container pushing outward on the ridges, which will simply flex and spread apart, potentially allowing air or liquid entry through the spread-open ridges. It is sometimes seen on lower cost surface dry suits.


Components of a zipper

The components of a zipper are:

  • 1 - top tape extension
  • 2 - top stop
  • 3 - slider
  • 4 - pull tab
  • 5 - tape
  • 6 - chain width
  • 7 - bottom stop
  • 8 - bottom tape extension
  • 9 - single tape width
  • 10 - insertion pin
  • 11 - retainer box
  • 12 - reinforcement film


Japan makes 90% of the world's zippers.[2] A large part of these are manufactured by YKK, which has production facilities in 68 countries and the world’s largest zipper manufacturing center in Macon, Georgia, USA, with 900 employees.[3] Almost all of the rest are made in South Asia and East Asia. Major zipper manufacturing countries in South Asia are now Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. The major zipper manufacturing country in East Asia other than Japan is China. These countries are not only manufacturing zippers for domestic use and use in exported products but are exporting zippers directly to other countries as well.[citation needed] TALON still exists as an American brand, now owned by TagIt Pacific of USA. Tag recently changed its name to Talon International Inc.




  • Henry Petroski: The Evolution of Useful Things (1992); ISBN 0-679-74039-2
  • Robert Friedel: Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty (W. W. Norton and Company: New York, 1996); ISBN 0-393-31365-4
  1. ^ Robert Friedel, 'Zipper; an Exploration in Novelty' This is the primary authority for the history of the zipper.
  2. ^ At least one source disputes this assessment, saying that 80% of the world's zippers come from China, and this includes numerous zippers from Qiaotou, Zhejiang Province.[1]

See also

External links

Simple English

File:Zipper animated.gif
Animated zipper

[[File:|thumb|Zipper]] A zipper, also known as a zip, is a fastener. It is used to hold clothes together. It can also be used in luggage bags, camping stuff, and sporting goods. It works by a slider either pushing together two rows of teeth or separating the rows.


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