Department of Invention

paper clip
The Paper Clip: By Design

We’ve been thinking about yard ramp design (no surprise), and it got us thinking about the paper clip (which surprised us).

Even with the dramatic swing away from paper and toward technology’s virtual world these past 20 years (still have and use a fax machine?), we’re betting your office supplies include a stash of paper clips.

Those twisted pieces of metal are brilliant in their simplicity. Architects, designers, and engineers often call the Gem version of the paper clip the perfect design; it’s even held court at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

And we use them not just to hold paper. (Need to reset a modem or router? Eject a SIM card from your smartphone? A straightened paper clip pushed into the device’s reset crater will usually do the job.)

An Improved Gem

In his book The Perfection of the Paper Clip, James Ward writes, “The Gem isn’t perfect, and people will continue to try to improve it, but the struggle will be to find a new design that is as balanced as the Gem.”

There are dozens of variations of the paper clip. (Our web guy has a supply of paper clips in the shape of a treble clef.) About 1920, the Cushman & Denison Manufacturing Company introduced an “Improved Gem Paper Clip.” The innovation? They simply bent up the end of the inner loop, allowing easier access for your stack of papers.

And this: In 1968, Dr. Spencer Silver, a scientist at the 3M company, stumbled upon the invention of the Post-It note—stumbled because he was looking to create just the opposite, a binding agent that was incredibly strong. Today, even with our paperless office frontier, the Post-It is everywhere…

Paper clips, and now Post-Its, are part of what we commonly refer to as everyday objects—phones, chairs, keys, buttons, and so on—each with their own histories and evolutions.

What strikes us is that the improvements on these basic inventions are not so much in the creation of new mousetraps. Rather, it’s all about the improvement—mostly in the form of subtle changes—to those existing mousetraps.

All of which returned us to our thinking about the design of industrial yard ramps. Is it possible to improve on the form and the function?

Watch this space for some very exciting news.



Okay, McCoy Fields . . .the quote-off grows even more I-nteresting:

I agree with my father, Albert Einstein, don’t believe every quote you read on the internet.James Earl Jones