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The ABCs of Office Inventions: From Staplers to Safety Tools

Aug 12, 2008
We use them all the time, but most of us don't know the history of those useful objects that cover our desks. Did you know that the mother of ex-Monkee Mickey Dolenz was the inventor of Liquid Paper? Read on to learn more about the fascinating history of some of your other favorite office supplies.

The Stapler

The earliest known stapler was developed in eighteenth-century France, at the request of King Louis XV. The name of the genius who fabricated this helpful device for making paper stick together hasn't been recorded, but we do know that each staple was handmade (from gold, according to some sources) and imprinted with royal insignia.

The stapler is one of those humble but useful inventions that most of us take for granted. It gained renewed respect when, in 2001, a now-classic episode of "The Office" featured-yes-spoilsport assistant manager Gareth Keenan's stapler trapped in a gelatin dish. As of 2007, "Jell-O Stapler" yielded 1310 Google hits.

The Paper Clip

This handy - if sometimes easy-to-spill - device was invented by Samuel B. Fay, a US citizen, in 1867. However, the wire paper clip, still in wide use today, was patented around 1890 by the British Gem Manufacturing. In a classic example of the "genericized trademark," the word "Gem" is now used in Swedish to denote "any paper clip."

A rival story claims that Herbert Spencer, the Victorian polymath who coined the term "survival of the fittest," strongly influenced Darwin, and almost got to be novelist George Eliot's husband (he turned her down), also has the invention of the paper clip to his credit. However, there is little evidence to support this story.

The Office

Based on the Latin word "officium," which meant not only duty (an important concept for those bureaucratic, no-fun Romans) but also a formal position such as a magistrature.

The invention of the modern cubicle, meanwhile, is one of those ironic stories with which the history of technology is rife. (Television was originally intended as an educational device, for example.) Colorado designer Robert Propst, working for Herman Miller, Inc, developed the cubicle as part of a 1965 "Action Office" prototype. It seems Propst was trying to liven up workplace design.

The Mouse

Stanford designer Douglas Engelbart developed the first mouse in 1963. Engelbart's mouse was not the streamlined plastic device we know today; it used two large gear-wheels, which could be turned (slowly) to move up or down. Today's ball mouse came a few years later - in 1972, when Engelbart's colleague Bill English chucked out those two gear-wheels and replaced them with a single ball, able to move in any direction (not just straight up and down).

The Filing Cabinet

African-American inventor Henry Brown patented a fire-safe forged-metal "receptacle for storing and preserving papers" "the ancestor of today's filing cabinet" in November 1886. The "vertical file" we all know and love had to wait twelve years, until Edwin Seibels, an insurance-office worker, hit on the space-saving idea of hanging files. (Before that, important business papers were often folded into envelopes and stored in pigeon holes.)

The Utility Knife

The original X-Acto knife - one ancestor of today's box cutter - was invented by Polish immigrant Sundel Doniger, but we'd never have known it if his brother-in-law, one Daniel Gluck the father of US Poet Laureate Louise Gluck hadn't suggested that hobbyists might find the thin metal knife useful. (Doniger had hoped to market it to surgeons!)

We don't know precisely who invented the safety knife, or box-cutter, however, it's modern day re-invention as the Klever Kutter has been featured on "Good Morning America" and http://Gizmodo.com. The Klever Kutter is so safe that it's been approved for air transport by Homeland Security. It makes short work of clamshell packaging, but it's no threat to the user.
About the Author
Safecutters Inc., provides an online store of utility knife box cutters for opening shipping boxes and shipping packages, as well as safety knives to open moving boxes and packages. For more information about Klever Kutter and other Safecutters products contact us!
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