Boring objects. #1. The paperclip.
To many people, nowadays, the paperclip is a tool for removing a SIM card or ejecting a CD from an old slot drive.
But it’s actually the solution to a clerical problem that had irritated people for hundreds of years.
Since the dawn of the printed document, there was a need to join paper together, temporarily.
The normal way of doing this was cutting tiny slits in the top left hand corner of each sheet of paper, through which ribbon was threaded, like a shoe lace.
Unsurprisingly, this led to paper getting ripped and secretaries getting cross.
The ribbon’s replacement was accidental.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, an American called John Ireland Howe designed a machine to mass produced sewing needles.
As well as delighting those darning socks and shortening trouser-legs, an unlikely customer was the legal profession.
Now, clerks began to advocate pinning documents together.
But puncturing paper still damaged it.
Norwegian inventor Johan Vaaler was bound to crack this age-old problem and he did this drawing on his degrees in engineering, science and mathematics.
His patented ‘paper clip’ was a bent piece of thin steel wire, with perforations along its length.
The bent metal loop kept pages in order, whereas the perforations allowed the clip to be pressed and bent into the paper itself, holding the document together.
A description that oversimplifies the invention’s brilliance.
Modern paperclips are cheap, bog-standard copies and known as ‘Gem’ paperclips, after the name of the English company that began bashing them out over a century ago.