The principle of the zipper was first patented by one Elias Howe in 1851, but he did not market it. A similar device was patented in 1893 by Whitcomb Judson, who launched the Universal Fastener Company and demonstrated his invention at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Twenty years later he designed the modern zipper. Before the zipper, the alternative ways of fastening together two pieces of cloth were buttons, some of which had to be pulled through a buttonhole using a hooked instrument, laces, and hooks and eyes. Today the zipper is found in clothing, tents, luggage and many other applications.
YKK, which stands for Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikigaisha, was founded in 1936 in Tokyo, Japan, opened its first overseas location in 1959, and now has 270 manufacturing plants in more than 70 countries. Japan makes 90 percent of the world's zippers, the majority of which are made by YKK. The company, if not the world’s best then certainly the world’s biggest, also manufactures a number of other fasteners including snaps, buttons, hooks, buckles and a Velcro-like product. Their American subsidiary, YKK AP America Inc., which is based in Georgia, also makes a wide range of architectural products.
Aircrew and astronauts traveling in or close to the edge of space had to wear pressure suits that were completely airtight, and for this a completely airtight zipper had to be designed and manufactured. This was achieved by wrapping the teeth of the zipper in plastic sheeting, which was crimped into place using a C-shaped ring, and also incorporated a Ziploc-like fastener.
Similar zippers to those airtight ones used in space are used in the waterproof products. These are used by aircrew in immersion suits – waterproof outer clothing that keeps an airman dry and warm in the event of him ejecting over cold waters, by divers and scuba divers in their dry suits, and in hazmat suits. These zippers are usually metallic and are quite difficult to open and close, but they are unbeatable in carrying out the function for which they were designed.
Other Special Zippers
Zippers have come a long way since they were first invented at the close of the 19th century, and in some applications they have since been superseded by the strip of Velcro fastening. There are many different applications you can use zippers for. Industrial applications include suitcases and other baggage items, tents, boats and removable awnings. You can now find invisible one-way or two-way zippers, separating zippers that completely open and separate into two halves, and even rhinestone zippers and other fashion items.