An Exploration in Novelty

Robert D. Friedel (Author)

Overview | Inside the Book

The story of the zipper is the triumph of an ingenious novelty over the practical world.

It is almost impossible to imagine modern life without this device; yet for the first thirty years or so, from its patent in the late nineteenth century, it represented no real advantage over traditional fasteners like the hook-and-eye or the old-fashioned button. The zipper was mechanically awkward, liable to rust, liable to fail (i.e., snag or burst open), and so expensive that it doubled the retail price of a skirt or a pair of pants. But from the beginning the zipper had an allure, a mystery, a kind of sex appeal that would be echoed in songs, poems, and popular novels.

Robert Friedel has written a fascinating history—full of strange twists, paradoxes, and interesting characters—of this signature gadget of the twentieth century. Inventor Whitcomb Judson (whose efforts lay mostly in patenting a doomed undertaking known as the Pneumatic Streetcar) gave the zipper life; businessman Colonel Lewis Walker had the capital and the faith to back it for forty years; and cultural icons such as Marlon Brando, Erica Jong, and the Rolling Stones helped to turn it into a symbol for sexuality and style.

Not just the story of a distinctive technology, Zipper is an entertaining, informative examination of how new things become part of our daily lives, shaping how we think and act.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • March 1996
  • ISBN 978-0-393-31365-9
  • 5.5 × 8.3 in / 304 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“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.” — Publishers Weekly

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