Background History

History of Swiss-Inventions: THE ZIPPER

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The first version of a zipper 1851

The zipper is a genius invention that makes our daily life much easier. Nowadays, a zipper seems so normal to us, but it took a lot of development to get to its current form.

We from «start-alp.com» will present famous «start-ups» to you in the upcoming weeks, innovations that were invented by Swiss people or had some swiss involvement. We’ll start with an invention that has positively changed our life and where a Swiss man played a decisive role!

The famous german journalist and author Kurt Tucholsky once said: «No one can explain why the zipper works. I do not know, you do not know, we all do not know.» And he is right, because today’s zipper has been in development for the last 70 years thanks to different scientists, industrialists and inventors. 

The zipper has been a part of our everyday clothes for almost 100 years. And it was Elias Howe from the United States of America in 1851, who applied for the first patent for an «Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure». Thus the first version of the Zipper was born. His biggest fault was that he did not try seriously to market it. Howe’s device was more like an elaborate drawstring than a true slide fastener. His system was much too complicated for a practical use. Within fifty years, several inventors had further developed his zipper design.

But it was his version that was used by the US Navy in 1917. They ordered zippers for the first time on a large scale in weatherproof suits for their pilots.

Thanks to the US Navy

Martin Othmar WiZipper_animated (1).gifnterhalter from St.Gallen first took notice of the Zipper thanks to the US Army. And he was responsible for the zipper-breakthrough in 1923. He acquired the patent for the zipper-system in Europe and developed the closure, originally made of beads and jaw clasps, and replaced them with ribs and grooves. The new zipper, as we know it today, was born. He named his product RiRi (= Rinne-Rippe, the german words for ribs and grooves) and founded a firm with the same name (RiRi) in Wuppertal. The company moved to Mendrisio, and is still in operation there today. The first standard zipper in the world was produced there.

Since the mid-1950s, plastic zippers have increasingly been used. These are significantly more flexible and are stronger than metal tear fasteners. In Germany, 70 million meters of zippers are produced – every year! The world’s largest producer of zippers is the Japanese company Yoshida Kōgyō.

Not only did Winterhalter develop a revolutionary product, he also started one of the first «start-ups» in the history of Switzerland.

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