The long short story of the zipper begins with the guy who also invented the lockstitch sewing machine (Who knew!) Elias Howe Jr. received the first US patent for a lockstitch sewing machine in 1846. His lockstitch machine ran at 250 stitches per minute out stitching five of the fastest hand sewers. Unbelievably, after the sewing machine attracted little attention in the US, Howe set off to find his fortune in England. The machine gained little traction in England. Howe eventually sold his UK patent rights for the bargain price of £250.

Howe returned to the United States penniless, found his wife dying, and the sewing machine manufactured by other companies in violation of his patent. In 1854, after years of litigation, the courts upheld his patent rights for the sewing machine.  After years of disappointment he became on of the riches men in America, his annual income went from $300 per year to over two hundred thousand dollars a year. In the next twelve years he earned nearly two million dollars from royalties. Howe received royalties on all sewing machines produced in the United States until his patent expired in 1867.

For most of his life Elias Howe was a penniless frail mane that lived with his family. He dealt with lying, backstabbing, bickering and years of litigation to bring us an invention that would change the fashion industry forever.

Elias Howe Zipper Patent

Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

So what about the zipper?

in 1851, Elias Howe received a patent an “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure.” Howe’s zipper had the similar function to the modern zipper operated in a different manner. The Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure consists of a series of clasps united by a connecting-cord. When shut, the zippered created a gathered effect, not the straight design of modern zippers. After receiving the patent, Howe did not go any further with his invention.

It would be 42 years later before Whitcomb Judson would pick up where Elias Howe left off.

Want to know the whole story?

Do yourself a favor and read this article on Elias Howe by Alex Askaroff. He has written a truly inspiring  story about the man who changed the fashion industry.

Elias Howe

ELIAS HOWE, INVENTOR OF THE SEWING MACHINE – A site dedicated to sewing, sewing machines, collectors of sewing machines and other related topics.

The Zipper

The History of the Zipper

It was a long way up for the humble zipper, the mechanical wonder that has kept our lives “together” in many ways. The zipper has passed through the hands of several dedicated inventors, though none convinced the general public to accept the zipper as part of everyday fashion.