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Robert Friedel is a professor of the history of technology and science at the University of Maryland, College Park. He lives in Washington, D.C.
How the ingenious zipper, a newfangled, unwanted novelty, became a ubiquitous part of daily life is the story told in this engaging chronicle peopled by a colorful cast of characters. The zipper can be traced to oddball Chicago inventor Whitcomb Judson, whose awkward shoe fastener, patented in 1893, never quite caught on. Col. Lewis Walker, a suave Pennsylvania lawyer and investor, made the hookless fastener his mission, enlisting the help of Otto Gideon Sundbach, a Swedish immigrant engineer who improved on Judson's invention with a 1917 patent that revolutionized the modern zipper. Friedel, a historian of technology at the University of Maryland, ably explores the advent of the zipper as adornment on trousers and purses in America's flapper decade, as a badge of modernity in Hitler's mechanized Third Reich and as a sexual, social and political symbol appropriated by Aldous Huxley, Marlon Brando, the anti-Nazi satirist Kurt Tucholsky, the Rolling Stones and Erica Jong. Photos not seen by PW . (Apr.)
Today the zipper seems a commonplace if not insignificant piece of our lives. Behind this tiny piece of technology, however, lies a story rich in manufacturing, economics, fashion, engineering, and , most importantly , personalities. Friedel, a historian of technology, examines all these topics in this tale of the ``hookless fastener'' (a.k.a., the zipper) from its 1890s origin through the 40 years of refinement and eventual acceptance in the 1930s and up to the present day. Enjoyable and readable, Friedel's saga of the zipper provides him with the perfect means to peer inside technology's origin, revealing its capacity to fill needs and showing how novelty pushes us to the future. Recommended for all collections.-- Michael D. Cramer, Virginia Polytechnic & State Univ. Libs., Blacksburg
"How the ingenious zipper, a newfangled, unwanted novelty, became a ubiquitous part of daily life is the story told in this engaging chronicle peopled by a colorful cast of characters." -- Publishers Weekly