The Extraordinary Life and Inventions of Gideon Sundback

OV Digital Desk

Image Courtesy: Google Doodle

Gideon Sundback (24 April 1880 – 21 June 1954) was a Swedish-American electrical engineer, who is most commonly associated with his work in the development of the zipper.

Early Life and Education

Gideon Sundback, an influential figure in the development of the zipper, was born Otto Fredrik Gideon Sundbäck on April 24, 1880, in Ödestugu Parish, Jönköping County, Småland, Sweden. He was the son of a prosperous farmer, Jonas Otto Magnusson Sundbäck, and Kristina Karolina Klasdotter. His early life on the Sonarp farm shaped his practical skills and innovative spirit. Sundback pursued his education in Sweden before moving to Germany, where he studied at the polytechnic school in Bingen am Rhein, graduating in engineering in 1903. His quest for knowledge and advancement in engineering led him to emigrate to the United States in 1905, setting the stage for his future contributions to the world of fasteners.

Career and Achievements

Gideon Sundback, a Swedish-American electrical engineer, is renowned for revolutionizing the fastening world with his invention of the zipper. His most notable contribution was the development of the ‘Hookless Fastener No.2’, a significant improvement over previous zipper designs, which he patented in 1917. This design was more reliable and practical, featuring an increased number of fastening elements and an innovative interlocking mechanism. Sundback’s relentless pursuit of perfection led to the creation of the ‘S-L’ or scrapless machine in 1923, which significantly boosted the production of zippers. His dedication to quality and continuous improvement earned him widespread recognition, including his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. Sundback’s legacy was further celebrated when Google commemorated his 132nd birthday with a Google Doodle in 2012. Additionally, he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in 1951, acknowledging his significant contributions to engineering and technology. Sundback’s work not only transformed the textile industry but also left an indelible mark on modern fashion and utility wear. His invention is a testament to the impact one individual’s innovation can have on daily life across the globe.

Notable Events and Milestones

Gideon Sundback journey began on a farm in Ödestugu Parish, where he was raised by his farmer father and mother. His academic pursuits led him to Germany, where he graduated in engineering in 1903, and subsequently, he emigrated to the United States in 1905.

Sundback’s work on the zipper began at the Universal Fastener Company, where he made significant improvements to the existing fastening mechanisms. His Hookless Fastener No.2, patented in 1917, increased the number of fastening elements and introduced an indent and bump to each tooth, allowing for a more reliable and efficient interlocking system. This innovation was not immediately embraced, as buttons and clasps were the norm, but the practicality and ease of use of Sundback’s design eventually won over the public. The widespread adoption of Sundback’s zipper was catalyzed by its military applications during World War I. The U.S. Navy incorporated the fasteners into flight suits and money belts for sailors, which contributed to the zipper’s popularity and recognition. Following the war, the B.F. Goodrich Company named their rubber boots equipped with Sundback’s fastener “Zipper,” a name inspired by the sound the device made, which stuck and became synonymous with the fastener itself. Sundback’s relentless pursuit of quality and continuous improvement led to the invention of the ‘S-L’ or scrapless machine in 1923, which revolutionized the manufacturing process of zippers by producing a continuous chain of fasteners. This innovation significantly reduced production costs and increased the availability of zippers, cementing their place in everyday apparel and goods.

Sundback’s contribution to society was recognized posthumously with his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. His work has been celebrated globally, including a Google Doodle on the 132nd anniversary of his birth, highlighting the enduring significance of his invention. The zipper’s ubiquity and the simplicity it brings to daily life are testaments to Sundback’s lasting impact on the world. His dedication to quality and innovation serves as an inspiration for inventors and engineers, reminding us that perseverance and attention to detail can lead to inventions that transform the world. The zipper, a seemingly small and mundane object, represents a leap in functionality and design, showcasing how a single invention can weave its way into the fabric of society and culture, becoming an integral part of our history and daily lives. Gideon Sundback passed away on 21 June 1954, in Meadville, Pennsylvania, at the age of 74.

Awards and Honors

  • Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 for his work on the development of the zipper.
  • Honored with a Google Doodle on April 24, 2012, the 132nd anniversary of his birth, which showcased the zipper and highlighted his contributions.
  • Awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences in 1951 for his contributions to fastening technology.
  • On 24 April 2012, Google celebrated Gideon Sundback’s 132nd Birthday with a doodle.

Additional Resources


  • “The Evolution of Useful Things” by Henry Petroski.
  • “Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty” by Robert Friedel.


  • “The Zipper: Gideon Sundback’s Fashion Revolution” available on YouTube.
  • For a broader historical context, “Zipper Revolution: Unzipping the Past with Gideon Sundback” also available on YouTube might be insightful.


  • The National Inventors Hall of Fame, which honors Gideon Sundback for his work on the development of the zipper.
  • MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art) in New York, which has featured Sundback’s work in past exhibitions.