Great Ideas Can Also Fail – The Zipper is the Perfect Example

Even the best of the best ideas can be considered a failure at first. And sometimes, the measure of success of an idea is not really how much this stands out but also how well this has blended into the background.

Just look at the zipper.The zipper may not call a lot of attention to itself, yet you can always find it stitched into your favorite jackets, jeans, handbags, luggage,pillow covers, andmany other items. Zippers have become ubiquitous and indispensable. It has been estimated that in the US alone, there are 4.5 billion zippers used annually, or 14 zippers for each American every year.

The technology itself was not an instant hit, either. For starters, other means for closing things like buttons, laces, and hooks-and-eyes had been around for years and worked just fine, even when they can be laborious and slow. Back then, it didn’t seem that the area required any improvement or even replacement for that matter.

It also took several years of different people tweaking and updating the zipper’s basic design, looking for an audience for it, and identifying the right marketing to make it rise to the same level of popularity it has today.However, the zipper reached success and possibly offers a counterpoint to those who think an idea that has been tested and tried in one form and didn’t catch on right away is already dead.

Zipper’sJourney to Becoming the “Zipper”

Elias Howe is the person who often gets the credit forcoining the idea of the zipper. He is better known for inventing the lockstitch sewing machine.

However, while his 1851 patent for a garment fastening looks zipper-like on paper, it actually worked more similar to drawstring than any zipper you would recognize today.

Regardless, Howe doesn’t appear to have ever attempted producing it, probably because he was busy looking for a market for his new kind of sewing machine and defending this against imitators in court.

This means that the credit perhaps belongs more properly to Whitcomb Judson. In 1893, Judson received a patent for the “Clasp Locker or Unlocker for Shoes” he made. This clever design of Judson still involved eyes and hooks, but its great innovation was to introduce a sliding mechanism for easy closure. The invention, however, was not the triumph Judson had hoped for. When he showcased it to the public during the World’s Fair, for example, it always popped open.

Judson went on to introduce the Universal Fastener Company with some assistance from Colonel Lewis Walker, a businessman, to produce his device. However, in spite of years of trying, including renaming and reorganizing the company in 1904 to Automatic Hook and Eye, and manufacturing a better fastener, the C-curity, with a slogan that stated, “A Pull and It’s Done,” the sales still struggled. The design still required work. Judson passed away in 1909, which also served as a low point for Automatic Hook and Eye.

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