Paper clips aren’t usually something that cause a lot of controversy in offices, that is, unless they are being flung at people. They are one of the many unsung heroes that go unnoticed in day to day life but have you ever stopped to think about who invented them? The United States Patent Office states that Samuel Fay entered his paper clip design into their product catalog in 1867. Ten years later Erlman Wright introduced an ingenious deign for binding newspapers but it was far from being something that most consumers and office workers would find suitable for everyday use.
The paper clip that most people use today was based on “the gem”; a bent wire piece that loops around itself and can be used over and over until it stretches out of shape or warps. You have the British to thank for the Gem type design but this unique and highly functional design has never been patented so there is no true way to give any one person credit for it.
Why were paper clips even invented? Before the invention of the plastic loop tag system for fastening labels and price tags to clothing, this was done with pins. As you may imagine, this was a time consuming process that also involved more than a few people pricking their fingers. By using a paper clip, labels were fastened quicker, the clips didn’t puncture the skin and there was less damage to the item being tagged.
Staples were patented in 1877 and gave paper clips a brief run for their money but just like the pin, it was too hard for consumers to remove safely and the idea was nixed shortly thereafter.
Today paper clips can be found in all shapes and sizes; they are made from plastic, basic steel, brass, recycled aluminum and my personal favorite, the plastic coated ones that seem to last forever. Variations of the clip are just as plentiful; the basic loop design, top end pick and quick slide and diamond mount are just a few of the shapes you can find clips in.
Oddly enough, the paper clip industry is a multi million dollar a year market. New designs include the alphabet, musical notes, dog bones, musical instruments and notes, geometric shapes, flowers, stars and hearts. These upscale clips look great but generally aren’t as effective as the good old basic Gem style clip.
The bulldog and binder clips are cousins to the paper clip; these are generally used to bind large amounts of paper but they are also great to hang wires and keeps computer cables off the ground. Always put the cable through the binder or bulldog, they both exert a lot of pressure that could wreak havoc on them over a period of time.
So the next time you reach for a paper clip or let loose with a stream of obscenities when you drop a box of them, give thanks to the person that invented them. Think of how complicated things would be if they were never created and the mountains of papers that would be strewn across offices. If MacGyver can find 107 uses for the paper clip then there’s hope for us all.