Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty

Robert Friedel, Author W. W. Norton & Company $23 (288p) ISBN 978-0-393-03599-5
How the ingenious zipper, a newfangled, unwanted novelty, became a ubiquitous part of daily life is the story told in this engaging chronicle peopled by a colorful cast of characters. The zipper can be traced to oddball Chicago inventor Whitcomb Judson, whose awkward shoe fastener, patented in 1893, never quite caught on. Col. Lewis Walker, a suave Pennsylvania lawyer and investor, made the hookless fastener his mission, enlisting the help of Otto Gideon Sundbach, a Swedish immigrant engineer who improved on Judson's invention with a 1917 patent that revolutionized the modern zipper. Friedel, a historian of technology at the University of Maryland, ably explores the advent of the zipper as adornment on trousers and purses in America's flapper decade, as a badge of modernity in Hitler's mechanized Third Reich and as a sexual, social and political symbol appropriated by Aldous Huxley, Marlon Brando, the anti-Nazi satirist Kurt Tucholsky, the Rolling Stones and Erica Jong. Photos not seen by PW . (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/28/1994
Release date: 03/01/1994
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-393-31365-9
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