Welcome to the first installment of a new monthly – at least until I get tired of it – feature called “Who Made That Thing?” These posts will pop up on the second Wednesday to tell you the short history of some random object, concept, or process. Yes, I’m a nerd. You should really know this by now.
I’ll be concentrating on the kind of random things that might make you say “neat” and win you a game a trivia next time you go down the pub. Feel free to leave suggestions for next month’s post. This should be fun.
Today we are going to talk about a ubiquitous little item found in office drawers and filing cabinets . . . the binder clip!
This is actually an American invention. Louis E. Baltzley (1895-1946), a native of Washington DC, created the versatile clip in 1911 and received his patent in 1915. Turns out Baltzley was from a family of inventors – his grandfather Elias Howe was a pioneer in the sewing machine world (maybe we’ll talk about him another time) and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2004. Did you know we had one of those?
A quick search of Google’s patent site shows Baltzley family members responsible for a culinary beater, a traveling stairway (an early escalator, ya’ll!), more small paper clip like items, a sound-absorbing device to make your typewriter quieter, a ping pong racket, an adjustable wrench, a typewriter cabinet . . . etc. (and those are just the ones I know for sure are the same family!).
But back to our friendly binder clip. You might not realize what an important invention this little guy is. Prior to Baltzley’s invention, the most common way of holding together a group of documents too large for a traditional paperclip was punching holes and tying the whole thing together (basically a very loose take on traditional binding). This was cumbersome and made adding or removing pages difficult. Think about the last time you used a binder clip (if you are an adult, I’m sure you have). Now imagine having to tie those papers together. Clumsy and time-consuming, right?
Several sources say Baltzley’s clip was inspired by watching his father struggle with stacks of paper around his office. As someone who works with stacks of papers for a living, I commend his creativity!