Early Office Museum
Staplers & Other Paper Fasteners
Expansion in the volume of papers generated and stored in offices during the second half of the
nineteenth century created a demand for efficient ways to fasten papers together. As part
of our research at the Museum, we have investigated the development of early
staplers and other mechanical devices
that were sold to meet this demand between the 1850s and early 1940s. The
old paper fastening machines
discussed here were used not only to insert and clinch staples but also to insert other
types of paper fasteners, such as eyelets, and to attach papers together without the use
of fasteners by cutting and folding or crimping the papers themselves.
Until circa 1860, and indeed for some time thereafter, the types of documents that today are
stapled together were fastened in a number of ways that did not require the use of
mechanical devices. Some documents were held together by stitches made with a needle and
thread. Others were secured by strings, tapes or ribbons that were inserted through parallel incisions made with a penknife. The strings, tapes or ribbons were then tied and sometimes secured with sealing wax to prevent tampering with the document. Still
other papers were held together with straight pins or glue, and strings or ribbons were
tied around groups of papers.
The earliest reference we have found to use of red tape to tie papers is: "a bundle of papers, ty'd with red tape." (The Proceedings at the Sessions of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer, for the City of London, 1730, p. 245) However, the use of red tape to tie a book containing notes and papers in 1708 suggests that red tape may have been used to tie papers by the very early 18th century. In any event, 19th century publications--particularly British ones--make many references to use of red tape for tying papers. The term "red tape" was used in its current figurative sense by 1833: "He hates the projects for centralising every thing in London, and putting the government of red tape and green ferrit in place of the time-honoured institutions of King Alfred." (Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country, v. 8, Oct. 1833, p. 488. Green ferrit or ferret is string or tape made from silk filaments and dyed green. In Britain during the 19th century, particularly during the early 1800s, it was sometimes used in the same manner as red tape.) The image below on the left [to be added] shows an advertisement for red tape and green ferret that appeared in 18__.
Left: Advertisement for Red Tape and Green Ferret
Right: Pyramid Pins
The photo above on the right shows Pyramid Pins of the type sold for fastening papers in offices
as well as for many uses in homes by the New England Pin Co., Winsted, CT. In 1878, Charles J. Cohen,
Philadelphia, PA, advertised Pyramid Pins in a similar circular holder
patented in 1871.
Mucilage, a water-soluble glue made from plants,
was advertised by Richard B. Dovell's Son & Co. and by Samuel S.
Stafford, both New York, NY, in 1867, and by Carter Bros. & Co.,
Boston, MA, and Chase & Bush, Philadelphia, PA, in 1868. A number of sellers exhibited mucilage along
with other office supplies at the 1876 International Exhibition.
Left: Morgan's Mucilage, 1881. Right: Carter's Mucilage,
Charles Slack states that the British firm Perry & Co. introduced the
rubber band in 1844, and that a licensee of Goodyear made rubber bands
around the same time in the US. (Noble Obsession: Charles Goodyear,
Thomas Handcock, and the Race to Unlock the Greatest Industrial Secret of
the Nineteenth Century, 2002, pp. 144, 155) We have found
references to India rubber bands in publications as early as 1854 and throughout the following decades. Waterlow & Sons, London, advertised pins, elastic bands, and red tape
in 1855. Geo. N. Davis & Brother, Boston, MA, advertised rubber
stationers' bands in 1856. (Illustrated and Descriptive Catalogue
and Trade-Price List of India Rubber and Gutta Percha Goods)
F. M. Butler of New York, NY, exhibited sealing wax at
the Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association,
Boston, in 1837. Waterlow & Sons, London,
did so in 1855, and Thaddeus Davids & Co.,
New York, NY, did so in 1876. Of course, sealing wax was
introduced centuries earlier.
Hall received an English patent for a brass paper fastener with two legs that the user inserted through a slit in papers and then bent outward in opposite directions. Unaware of the Hale patent, the US patent office awarded a patent for a brass paper fastener with the same fundamental characteristics to George W. McGill in 1866. The McGill paper fasteners were immediately popular, remained popular well into the 20th century, and are still on the market.
In 1890, a paper clip made from folded spring steel was introduced in the US. A bent-wire paper clip was patented by Fay in 1867 but the Fay design was not used commercially until 1896. The first paper clip made from bent spring steel wire to be marketed was the Gem, introduced by Cushman & Denison in 1892, and ever since the most popular paper clip in the US. To visit our exhibit on the History of the Paper Clip,
Paper Fastening Technology Timeline
|1850s ~ Eyelets:
to the right shows Lipman's Improved Eyelet Machine, which
was advertised during 1878-85 for fastening papers. Hymen L. Lipman was awarded a patent for an eyelet machine in 1854. His 1854 machine had predecessors for fastening
papers. According to the 1854 patent: "In eyelet
machines as at present constructed, the eyelet cannot be riveted
from one side, and the consequence is that after it is partially
riveted from one side, it must be turned over, and completed.
To those who use these machines, this difficulty of turning over the
folios is obvious, as they are obliged to let go the sheets to be
fastened, and they frequently get out of place." Lipman
exhibited his eyelet machines at the 1876 International Exhibition
in Philadelphia. Eyelet machines that were used for fastening papers, as well as for other purposes, were sold in the US until at least 1999. To see more eyelet presses, click
Lipman's Improved Eyelet Machine, 1880
1860s ~ Brass Paper
Fasteners: Metal paper fasteners
similar to the brass ones in the photograph to the right were patented in the US in 1866
by George W. McGill. "Brass paper fasteners, 25 cts. per box"
are listed among the purchases for members of the 1869 Illinois
Constitutional Convention. In 1867, McGill patented a press
designed to cut slits in paper so that fasteners of this type could be inserted by
hand. The larger device in the photograph is a McGill
Fastener Press similar to the one patented in 1867. It was advertised as
early as 1880. The smaller
device is a McGill Fastener Punch
patented in 1874. McGill exhibited paper fasteners, and presumably paper fastener presses, at the 1876 International Exhibition in Philadelphia. To see more paper fasteners and paper fastener punches, click here.
McGill Paper Fasteners, 1874 & 1880
|1870s ~ Individual
Preformed Staples: The first desktop machine designed to fasten papers
by inserting and clinching metallic staples was patented in 1877
(US. Patent No. 195,603). A
number of the earliest machines held only one
preformed wire staple at a time and had to be reloaded each time they were used.
The photo to the right
shows one such machine, a McGill Single-Stroke Staple Press No. 1, which was
patented in 1879 and advertised during 1880-1909. To see several single-staple machines, click here.
OldStaplers.com, a web site that is no longer active, reported that in 1868 and 1874, before the
development of machines that both inserted and clinched staples, two
patents were issued for machines that inserted, but that did not
McGill Staple Press, 1879
|1870s ~ Magazines
of Preformed Staples: The first stapling machine with a magazine that held a
supply of preformed wire staples that were fed automatically to the staple-driving
mechanism was patented in 1878. The Brown No. 5 Stapling Machine in
the photo to the right was patented in 1887. To see a number of additional early magazine stapling
machines, click here.
Brown Stapling Machine, 1887
|1880s ~ Staples
Formed from Spools of Wire: A desktop stapling machine that formed staples from wire
loaded on a spool was patented in 1880, and machines of this type were advertised as early
as 1882. The photo to the right shows a later machine of
this general type that used a spool of metal tape, the Eveready Paper Fastener,
which was patented in 1915 and advertised during 1916-42. To see several other wire spool stapling machines, click here.
Eveready Paper Fastener, 1915
|1890s ~ Staples
Cut from Strips: Moving along the paper fastener time line, stapling machines
that cut individual staples off a stamped strip of connected metal staples were introduced
commercially in 1895 by the Jones Mfg. Co., the predecessor of the E. H. Hotchkiss Co. The photo to the right shows the earliest of these machines, the
1895 Star Paper Fastener.
The best-selling strip staple machine, the Hotchkiss No. 1 paper
fastener, was still marketed in 1950. To see a number of other strip
staple machines, as well as the staple strips they used, click here.
Star Paper Fastener, 1895
|1890s ~ Staples
Formed from Straight Pins: The Century Stapling
Machine, which was patented in 1897, and the similar Sun Stapling
Machine, which was invented by the same person, formed staples
from straight pins by cutting off the ends, bending what was left to form a staple, and
then inserting and clinching this staple.
Sun Stapling Machine, Sun Typewriter Co., New York, NY, 1900 ad. 1900 Price $1.50.
Century Stapling Machine, 1897
|1900s ~ Fastening
Papers without Metallic Fasteners: “Stapleless” paper fastening devices that did not
use a metallic fastener were introduced in 1909 by the Clipless Paper Fastener Co. and
in 1910 by Bump’s Perfected Paper Fastener Co. A Clipless Paper Fastener and the
Bump Paper Fastener
cut and fold small flaps in the papers
in a way that locks the papers together. Bump machines were still
marketed in 1950. Curiously, the model of the Bump Stand
Machine that was introduced in 1916 was sold until 1950 with the
words "Patent Pending."
The Paper Welder, which was introduced
in 1941, crimps papers together. To see more stapleless paper
fasteners, click here.
Bump New Model Paper Fastener, 1910
Paper Welder, 1941
|1910s ~ Fastening
Papers with a Machine that Inserts Bent Wire Paper Clips: In 1914,
a device was introduced that pushed Niagara
bent-wire paper clips onto sets of papers (see photo to right). In 2003, ClipMagik
introduced an Electric Paper Clip Machine, which pushes Gem paper
clips onto sets of papers.
Niagara Clip, 1897
visit our exhibit on the History
of the Paper Clip, click here.
|1920s ~ Fastening
Papers with a Machine that Inserts Straight Pins: In 1926,
the Pinzit Co. of New York, NY, introduced the Pinzit machine, which inserted a special straight
pin through a set of papers. The device first bent the papers so
that the pin moving in a straight line would pass through the papers from the top and then
pass through the papers from the bottom.
Paper Fasteners: We have not yet included hand-held devices in most of
the Early Office Museum's paper fastener exhibits. Most paper fastening technologies have
been available in both hand-held and desktop models. The 1888 White's Staple Inserter pictured to the right
individual preformed staples. It was marketed for "Fastening
legal documents, binding pamphlets, briefs, magazines, etc." The 1915 Cliplox Paper Fastener
pictured below was used "for fastening papers and locking them
together without the use of pins, clips, or
Cliplox Paper Fastener, 1915
White's Staple Inserter,
When Did the
Magazine Stapler Become Dominant?
Nearly all the
technologies described above co-existed for many years and were still marketed
at least as late as 1940.
In the end, staplers with magazines of preformed wire staples drove nearly all other paper fastening devices from the
desktop. We cannot demonstrate causation, but it is possible to suggest several reasons that magazine staplers won out after many
years of co-existence.
* 1927: The conventional magazine stapler became more popular with the introduction of "cohered" or "frozen wire" strips of staples that were glued together. Over 200 staples could be loaded quickly.
* 1939: Swingline introduced "open channel loading" with its Speed Staplers No. 3 and No. 4, which gave these and other Swingline machine a competitive edge. These staplers could be loaded quickly, and any jams could be fixed easily.
* 1940: Staplers that used "standard staples" were introduced. For decades, paper fastening machines, including magazine staplers, made by different companies (and often even the same company) required metallic paper fasteners of different sizes. In 1940 companies began to advertise that their magazine staplers used “standard staples,” and office supply companies began to advertise standard wire staples that fit at least Ace, Arrow, Bates, Bostitch, Compo, Dennison, Hotchkiss, Star, and Swingline magazine staplers.
* Magazine staplers were introduced that were simpler, lighter, smaller, and cheaper.