Since we didn’t get to hear any music in class when we talked about Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, here they are!
EDIT: Visit the completed project and learn about the background, development, adoption, and impact of the zipper.
I intend to investigate the history of the zipper for my American History and Technology class project. My project will be divided into several parts, discussing the zipper’s antecedents, its invention, its possible alternatives, and its adoption and interaction with American culture.
Why the zipper? “The zipper,” according to Robert Friedel, author of Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty, “is the perfect vehicle for exploring how and why men and women seek to create new things and how difficult it in fact can be to change the ways of the world, no matter how clever and ingenious our inventions are” . The zipper may seem like an uninteresting topic of exploration, but it has a rich history that makes it a perfect artifact of discussion. It is likely no one has ever waxed poetic about the zipper as a validation of industrialization and capitalism like the railroad. Maybe there has never been a zipper on display in an important American building as a reminder of strength like a hunk of steel. Perhaps the zipper had not changed the very basics of our society. But like those behemoth innovations, the zipper has become such a part of our daily lives and identities that we take it for granted. And to be fair to the poor, neglected zipper, there are probably a fair number of Americans who can say they have never ridden a train, but how many Americans can say that they have never used a zipper?
The U.S. Patent Office approved several early designs that only vaguely resembled today’s zipper. One of these devices was an “automatic, continuous clothing closure,” patented by Elias Howe in 1851. However, Howe’s design never reached market, likely because Howe was concerned with promoting one of his other inventions, the sewing machine.
The first patent to use a slide device, which enabled the fasteners to be brought together in a semiautomatic way, belonged to Whitcomb Judson. While Judson’s design used recognizable fastening devices like clasps, hooks, and eyes, the addition of a slide proved to be innovative. Judson’s first patent was issued in 1893, and he continued to work on simplifying his design.
Despite Judson’s proclivity for overly complicated inventions, he found a partner in Harry L. Earle and his manufacturing company. Earle tired to raise money to put Judson’s device into production, but he met with little success. Despite Judson’s constant improvements, his design did not work particularly well. Nonetheless, Judson designed and patented machinery to make his fastener. Finally, in 1904 he created a design using hooks and eyes connected to a fabric tape, which could then be attached to shoes and garments. Judson’s new design made the first commercial introduction of the fastener possible.
The Automatic Hook and Eye Company of Hoboken was created to produce and sell Judson’s new design, called the C-curity fastener. The fastener went to market in 1905, mostly marketed towards women, but it was mostly unsuccessful. Swedish born, Gideon Sundback was hired to work for the company, and there he perfected the design of the zipper. He first made modifications to Judson’s design, making the hook-and-eye connection more secure. The Plako, as it was called, was marketed towards dressmakers and for men’s trousers, where it enjoyed some success. However, the Plako also proved to be unreliable, not being flexible enough to stay closed when bent or twisted.
Sundback continued to work on the device, and in 1912 he created a new design for the product, abandoning the hook-and-eye system. His Hookless #1 design used a slide to force one side of the fastener, made of cloth tape, into metal clamps on the other side. However, the wear on the fabric tape proved to be too much, and the fastener could only be used a few times.
Nevertheless, the company reorganized into the Hookless Fastener Company. In 1913, Sundback designed the Hookless #2, which introduced the interlocking system used in the modern zipper. He changed the fasteners from hooks and eyes to small interlocking scoops. These scoops fit together tightly when joined by the slide and were easily released when separated by it. New mechanical innovations allowed Sundback device to be mass produced.
While a workable slide fastener had finally been invented, it still needed a market if it was to be adopted. The zipper found its first widespread success in 1918 when the United States joined World War I. The Hookless Company added zippers to soldiers’ money belts, Navy flying suits and life vests, and fuselage coverings. While the end of the war also ended the company’s military sales, thousands of Americans had been exposed to the zipper. By 1937 the zipper had become a common addition to men’s and women’s fashions, and it quickly gained popularity outside the apparel market as well. After nearly half a decade, the zipper was no longer considered a novelty.
Many of my primary sources will come from a free patent website, http://www.freepatentsonline.com/, which provides files of original United States patents. The patents include drawings, technical descriptions, and possible uses for the inventions.
There are some early devices that vaguely resemble an early design of the zipper, including Elias Howe’s automatic, continuous clothing closure, U.S. Patent No. 8,540 (1851).
+ “Fastening for Garments.” United States Patent Office No. 8,540, patented Nov. 25 1851. FreePatentsOnline. http://www.freepatentsonline.com/0008540.pdf (accessed January 31, 2009).
Whitcomb Judson designed a device based on pervious clasps and hooks, but he added a slide that allowed the fasteners to be brought together in a semiautomatic way. Judson constantly worked on improving his design to make it more practical. Some of his patents include a hook-and-eye shoe fastener, U.S. Patent No. 504,037 (1893), and a clasp locker/unlocker for shoes, U.S. Patent No. 504,038 (1893).
+ “Shoe Fastening.” United States Patent Office No. 504,037, patented Aug. 29 1893. FreePatentsOnline. http://www.freepatentsonline.com/0504037.pdf (accessed January 31, 2009).
+ “Clasp Locker or Unlocker for Shoes.” United States Patent Office No. 504,038, patented Aug. 29 1893. FreePatentsOnline. http://www.freepatentsonline.com/0504038.pdf (accessed January 31, 2009).
Gideon Sundback streamlined Judson’s fastener and designed the interlocking teeth system used in zippers today. He also constantly worked on improving his device. One of his patents includes a separable fastener, U.S. Patent No. 1,219,881 (1917).
+ “Separable Fastener.” United States Patent Office No. 1,219,881, patented Mar. 20, 1917. FreePatentsOnline. http://www.freepatentsonline.com/1219881.pdf (accessed January 31, 2009).
Friedel, Robert D. Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1994.
+ Friedel’s book will likely be my most crucial secondary source, as it is entirely dedicated to a history and discussion on the zipper, including its place in American culture.
Friedel, Robert. “The History of the Zipper,” Invention and Technology Magazine 10, no. 1 (Summer 1994). http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/1994/1/1994_1_8.shtml (accessed January 31, 2009).
+ Friedel further discusses the history of the zipper in this article.
Friedel, Robert, and Alexander Horniman. “Zipper!” Virginia Foundation for the Humanities Web site. With Good Reason Archives. http://www.virginiafoundation.org/media/wgr/archives/2007/jan07wgr.html (accessed January 31, 2009).
+ Robert Friedel and Alexander Horniman discuss how the zipper illustrates the limitations and expectations of technology and the meanings we place on technology.
Lienhard, John H. The Engines of Our Ingenuity: An Engineer Looks at Technology and Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
+ It is somewhat difficult to think of the zipper as a machine, but Lienhard’s perspective as an engineer when discussing the zipper will keep that distinction in mind.
Petroski, Henry. The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts- From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers- Came to be as They Are. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1994.
+ Much like Friedel, Petroski also discusses the history of the zipper, as well as other ordinary artifacts, and how it came to be ordinary rather than novel.
Petroksi, Henry. Invention by Design: How Engineers Get from Thought to Thing. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996.
+ Petroski spends a section discussing the zipper from the scientific thinking required for its invention to the concerns of creating a market for the invention.
Smith, Vaclav. Transforming the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations and Their Consequences. Oxford University Press, USA; illustrated edition edition (April 13, 2006
+ Smith writes on 20th Century inventions, including the zipper, and how they have integrated into society.
“The ABC of Zip Fasteners.” COATS Industry Web site. http://www.industrie.coats.de/zip/zipabc/ (accessed January 31, 2009).
+ This website provides technical aspects of the zipper. It describes zipper models, types, components, and length definitions.
 Robert Friedel, “The History of the Zipper,” Invention and Technology Magazine 10, no. 1 (Summer 1994), http://www.americanheritage.com/articles/magazine/it/1994/1/1994_1_8.shtml (accessed January 31, 2009).
“The theatre artist has been called a jack-of-all-trades. Perhaps a better name would be hijacker-of-all-trades, for no man’s lifetime is long enough to learn all about ‘drama’ if he also has to learn about design and the history of art, if he has to master the intricacies of color and light, if he is to understand form in sculpture and line in architecture, if he must have a working knowledge of music and dance. Any one of these is a career in itself. The designer’s danger is that he may become an amateur of all the arts and crafts and a professional in none.” – Jo Mielziner in his 1965 book, The Theatre: A Memoir and a Portfolio
The following biography of Jo Mielziner and his design style was written by Mary Henderson and can be found here.
As the twentieth century wanes, it is generally conceded that American theater came of age in the years following the first World War. With the emergence of Eugene O’Neill, the spread of the experimental theater movement, and the introduction of the “new stagecraft,” the attention of the world was focused on the remarkable achievements in the American theater during a period beginning in the early 1920’s and continuing for the next fifty years. No one better represented and reflected this era than the stage artist and designer, Jo Mielziner, whose entire career almost exactly coincided with the flowering of American theatre during those years.
Beginning as a disciple of Robert Edmond Jones, whose theories shook the established stage practices of his time, Mielziner matured into the finest scene and lighting designer of his time—and perhaps, of all time. For a while, he elevated scene design and the designer to an almost transcendent position in the creative theatrical collaboration without, however, distorting the function of either. His perception that the designer must penetrate the fabric of the play to provide its visual metaphor was his most important contribution. As proof of this, he worked in no set style, giving each play and musical its unique scenic image. In many cases, his perfectly realized visual interpretations for such plays as Death of a Salesman and A Streetcar Named Desire and such musicals as Guys and Dolls and The King and I have made it almost impossible for designers who succeeded him to avoid imitation. Directly and indirectly, Mielziner trained an entire generation of designers and the reverberations of his vision are still being felt. He created scenery and lighting (and often costumes) for almost three hundred productions, ranging from Shakespeare to the lightest farce, from O’Neill to Tennessee Williams, and for musicals, opera, and ballet.
Mielziner’s dissatisfaction with the theatrical architecture of his period led him to formulate his own conceptions of workable theatrical plants, which in turn brought him commissions to design, co-design, or serve as consultant on such theatres as the Vivian Beaumont in New York, the Denver Center Theater, and the Wake Forest University Theatre in North Carolina. He also received commissions for industrial and commercial projects and for such special events as the convention site in San Francisco for the establishment of the United Nations in 1945 and the lighting of the PIETÁ in the Vatican Pavilion of the 1964 Worlds’ Fair in New York.
All of the following pictures of scenic examples and descriptive text come from here.
SEED OF THE BRUTE 
This play, called “a fair-to-middling play” by the NY Times critic, was by Knowles Entrikin. It was a rather heavy handed melodrama which had little stage life after the initial production. Mielziner’s design shown here is the only one he ever executed in grattage, a method of rendering a design by scraping away the dark wax surface covering the plate to reveal the lighter color beneath.
Mielziner was interested in the complete look of the productions he designed. He frequently designed not only the settings and lights but also the costumes. This is the costume design for the title character, a Viennese playboy, for the 1931 Broadway production.
THE WOOKEY 
Frederick Brennan wrote this play about a tugboat skipper, played by Edmnd Gwenn, who hates war but changes his attitude after rescuing men at Dunkirk. Mielziner’s sets, lights and special effects won universal praise. A room broke into flames, a house is bombed and the terrifying mayhem of war was created through collapsing scenery, lights, special effects and sound. This design is for the basement setting of the Wookey’s bombed house.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN 
The set of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman evolved in Mielziner’s mind over a period of months. He submitted his ideas, sketched on any available paper and sent them to the director, Elia Kazan, for his reactions. These sketches show some of his early ideas for this, one of his most highly praised sets.
A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN 
The musical, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn based on Betty Smith’s novel, was written by Betty Smith and the remarkable George Abbott. The music was by Arthur Schwartz and the lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Brooks Atkinson called it “a darlin’ show in a hospitable mode with a liking for its people and locale. Of Mielziner’s settings he writes that “they derive from nostalgic sentiment for a neighborhood and its people.” This design if for the laundry scene set on the roof.
TOP BANANA 
Mielziner created this rendering of a ballet scene which was ultimately cut from the final production. The dark background emphasizing the brightly lighted dancers shows his intense interest in the effects of lighting on scenery and actors.
THE LARK 
For The Lark. Jean Anouilh’s version of the Joan of Arc legend, Mielziner designed a series of low randomly-placed platforms covered in blue plush set against a backdrop (or cyclorama) of thin muslin stretched on a frame. On it, he projected a rose window and other images including this battlefield to signal changes of scene. Lighting was the principal element in this production
Possibilities by Arthur Pittman takes place over three decades. The play was an unqualified failure but the two designs for projections which silhouette fire escapes and fences against the evening and night sky, although telling us little about the play, are both haunting and evocative.
The following biography was written for Susan Hilferty’s personal website.
Susan Hilferty has designed over 300 productions from Broadway to the Bay area- and internationally including Japan, London, Australia, Germany and South Africa. Recent designs include Wicked (2004 Tony, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama Desk awards and Olivier nomination), Spring Awakening (Tony nomination) August Wilson’s Radio Golf and Jitney, Lestat (Tony nomination) Assassins, Into the Woods (Tony and Drama Desk nominations; Hewes Award), Manon at LA opera and Berlin Staatsoper, Richard Nelson’s Conversations in Tusculum, Caryl Churchill’s Drunk Enough to Say I Love You and Chris Durang’s The Marriage of Bette and Boo. She works with such well-known directors as Joe Mantello, James Lapine, Michael Mayer, Walter Bobbie, Robert Falls, Tony Kushner, Robert Woodruff, JoAnne Akalaitis, the late Garland Wright, James MacDonald, Bart Sher, Mark Lamos, Frank Galati, Des McAnuff, Christopher Ashley, Emily Mann, David Jones, Marion McClinton, Rebecca Taichman, Laurie Anderson, Carole Rothman, Garry Hynes, Richard Nelson and Athol Fugard (the South African writer with whom she works as set and costume designer and often as co-director since 1980). Hilferty also designs for opera, film, and dance, and chairs the Department of Design for Stage and Film at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She was awarded a 2000 OBIE for Sustained Excellence in Design.
As the chair of the Department of Design for Stage and Film at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Hilferty discuses what she looks for in a student here.
… She is not the only student whose background has left them woefully unprepared for life as a designer. I often get stunned expressions from candidates when I make suggestions about what they should be taking. They are shocked when I say that a student with a strong liberal arts background who has taken drawing classes in the art department and has had only a small amount of time in the theatre is better prepared to be a designer. “But I have worked on over 25 productions!” they wail. How do I tell them that they have been trained to be technicians, not built the foundations to be designers? Without taking history, political science, languages, English literature, all of the liberal arts; without taking even one pure art class, not even a figure drawing class; without having seen any of the current practitioners of this art form, how can they even know if they want to be designers?
… First, I took a critical look at what I was looking for in a member of my incoming class. I am looking for a student who is passionate about the theatre; who understands that it is a living, breathing thing directly connected to contemporary life and at its best helps us wrestle with an understanding of our own lives. The student I am looking for does not have to be highly skilled in the theatre arts, but must have a broad-based liberal arts background on which he or she can depend as a resource for his or her designs. The student must understand that we are designers and must be able to speak the language of design, which means the student should come equipped with some drawing background. The most basic requirement is that the student can understand and communicate proportion. I want someone who is insatiably curious about everything and is willing to risk and embrace failure in his or her desire to explore.
… For me, drawing is an essential tool, because it allows the designer to explore proportion, the keystone to any design idea. I feel that the student needs to speak the language of design to truly be a designer. I do not believe a student has to draw like Michelangelo, just to be able to put an idea down on paper in proportion to see the idea and then make a choice about the design. I believe that drawing is important as a way to explore a design rather than to present an idea.
Hilferty’s personal website also provides a portfolio with costume sketches and photos of her work, including Wicked, Into the Woods, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
An interview with Hilferty discussing the costumes of Wicked.
Some of my favorite propaganda posters, whether humorous or just plain scary…
More posters can be found here.
Springtime for Hitler- The Producers, 1968
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And if you’d like to download the song…
Gone With The Draft- The King Cole Trio, 1940 Download link
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy- Andrews Sisters, 1941 Download link
He’s 1-A In The Army And He’s A-1 In My Heart- Les Brown and his Orchestra, Betty Bonney, 1941 Download link
Blitzkrieg Baby (You Can’t Bomb Me)- Una Mae Carlisle, 1941 Download link
We Did It Before (And We Can Do It Again)- Barry Wood and The Wood-Nymphs, 1941 Download link
Cowards Over Pearl Harbor- Denver Darling, 1942 Download link
There’ll Be A Little Smokio In Tokio- Don Baker with The Polka Dots, 1941 or 1942 Download link
Der Fuehrer’s Face- Spike Jones and His City Slickers (I believe) Download link
More music can be found here.
Over There- Nora Bayes, 1917
Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning- Arthur Fields, 1918
How Ya Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm- Harry Fay, 1918
More music, from many different eras, can be found here.