May 02, 2013

Horse 1475 - 150th Birthday of The Inventor Of The Zipper

As we do up the fly on our pants, close our satchels and our jackets, none of us ever give though to the man who invented the zipper, Alfred von Zipperbaum who had he been alive today would have been 150 years old and more than likely quite cranky and confused (as you would be at 150 years of age).

Alfred von Zipperbaum or "Alfie", born 2nd May 1863, was the third son of a tanner in Yerken near Munich, Bavaria. The von Zipperbaums weren't all that rich but their leathergoods shop had been in central Munich since 1434. Alfie's oldest brother would inherit the shop; so it was generally accepted that he would most likely find work in the local coal or steel mills.
At the age of 14, and with increasing tensions between his parents, Alfie would disappear into the forests for often days at a time, claiming that he had gone to other towns looking for work. The truth was that he had found more sustenance foraging for wild fruits and berries than the meagre existence which his parents' shop was affording him.

Whilst on one of his many excursions into the forest, Alfie noticed a particular species of fly trap and how its various "teeth" seemed to interlock. Being a practical lad, he made sketches of his finds and set his mind to work so that he could make use of this interlocking system and improve the family's leather bags and satchels.

Alfie's first problem lay in making the teeth that would form his interlocking chains. He saw how the fly trap was able to grow about 90 almost identical clips that fit nicely into the one in front and behind it. Soon he was hammering at small pieces of metal less than the size of a fingernail and when he finally did hit on a design that worked he made a press that would punch out 625 of them at a go. It was then a matter of stitching a cord through the holes on one side of his punched pieces lining them up.
Alfie's next idea was a stroke of genius. He created a small guide which would slide between the punched pieces which depending on the direction of travel, either aligned or disaligned them; thus the final functional example was created.

After going to his father who rejected the idea outright, he worked in the shop for a period, earning enough money to buy some of the goods he was making. He further outraged his father by setting up a stall in the local town Saturday market and selling four times as many bags and satchels as the family had.

Realising that his own son would not be bought, the elder von Zipperbaum offered to buy the younger's new product in batches. Other local producers like jacket and coat makers also saw the use in the new product and Alfie set up his own factory making his "Zippers". He called his new venture the Yerken Klippen Kraftwerken or YKK for short. Even today YKK zippers can be found in many applications but mainly on bags, satchels, jackets and coats, just like they were more than 130 years ago.
Alfie lived in Yerken his whole life and passed away as a result of lung cancer in 1951 at the age of 88.

This May also marks the 125th anniversary of the YKK company being incorporated and it is fitting that they are still the largest manufacturer of zippers in the world. There are enough zippers in the world to reach the moon and back six times over, which is quite impressive for an idea born out of poverty in Bavaria.

Addenda: Most of this is a lie. In fact only one line is actually true.

No comments: