Useful Inventions: A Brief History of the Paper Clip

by, Jo Carol Hebert

“Which Came First: Paper or the Paper Clip?”

  • Year 105 Paper was invented in Asia 
  • Year 1901 A legal patent for a Paper Clip is recorded 

Paper Revolution

Before paper, curious people of all times have found surfaces to make marks to express what they are thinking. They scratched pictures on cave walls, carved symbols on tree trunks, and pressed marks into clay tablets. 

The invention of ‘sheet’ paper and innovations of ‘papermaking’ led to industrial paper factories, called mills. The printing press made mass production of books possible. Tons of paper was needed to print pages of books.

Did You Know?

  • The word paper comes from ‘papyrus’ – a tall plant in the Nile River area of Egypt . the ‘wood pulp’ of the plant was pounded thin and dried in the sun to make paper
  • The name of the person recognized for inventing paper in Asia was Ts’ai Lun
  • One pine tree can produce 80,500 sheets of paper!
  • The world produces 300 million tons of paper each year 

How To Fasten Sheets of Paper Together?

Book binding is an art of fastening finished papers in a permanent way. Temporary fastening of papers was needed for organizing love letters, ledgers of business and finance records, documents of war and peace, and ‘lists of grocery items’ to pick up at the market. 

What About Using Ribbons?

For centuries, ribbons were used to tie papers together. By slitting the upper left hand corner of pages of paper, a ribbon could be pulled through and tied. This method progressed to ‘waxing’ the ribbon to make it reusable. Or, just wrapping a ribbon around a bundle of papers and a neat bow would do the job. Attorneys tied legal papers with ‘pink’ ribbons. Ribbon fastening of papers continued as the best way people could come up with to keep papers together. 

How About a Straight Pin?

In modern times, John Trelap, a doctor, invented a machine for mass production of straight pins for clothing and sewing. This was also used to pin sheets of paper together, but often tore the edges.

Will the Real Inventor of the Paper Clip Please Stand Up?

Many inventors devised types of ‘clips’ for papers. Johan Vaaler, of Norway, is one inventor credited for patenting the first ‘paper clip’. He was an employee of an invention office. The official patent description in June, 1901 described the device:

“Consists of forming the device from a spring material, such as a piece of wire, that is bent to a rectangular or triangular or otherwise shaped hoop – the parts of which wire piece form members of tongues lying side by side in contrary directions.” 

A college campus in Sandvika, Norway, displays a 23-foot paper clip statue in honor of their countryman, Johan Vaaler. 

The Most Famous Paper Clip

William Middlebrook of Waterbury, Connecticut developed a machine for making paper clips earlier, in 1899. But, he never patented the design. This is the familiar oval-shaped, classic design, called the Gem Clip. 

Oh, the Many Things A Paper Clip Can Do!

People use these twisted pieces of wire in other ways: hanging Christmas ornaments, unclogging glue tubes, cleaning pipes or fingernails, and making chains. Office paper clip ‘basketball’ relieves boredom by tossing paper clips in the trash can.

This ingenious little invention is an important product of office supply stores. In the United States alone, people buy billions of paper clips each year. 

So, let’s give a big ‘shout-out’ to the many innovators who labored, struggled, and sacrificed to devise the paper clip! How could we live without it!

“Are you frustrated and unorganized? Are papers cluttering your desk, floor, room, and office? Head for your nearest office supply store and purchase a box of paper clips. They come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Happy ‘Paper-Clipping!”

Paper Clip Art: Draw a Paper Clip. Make a Paper Clip. Try your ‘malleable’ wire (from Useful Inventions: The Safety Pin) to bend a paper clip. 

What other ‘Useful Inventions’ are you interested in knowing more about? Let us know in the comments section!

Categories: Useful Inventions

3 replies

  1. As far as I know, there’s no song about the paper clip (called a “trombone” in France), as there is about the invention of the safety pin (well, at least it’s a routine of sorts if not a song), but there ought to be. Weird Al? Anyone else?


    • About ‘paper clips’, there’s no confusion. A ‘paper clip’ for papers completes the conclusion. But, in France, if ‘trombone’ is how you say it -how do you when to clip it or play it? Thanks for your very interesting comment.


      • Correction: Here is an edit to the above comment that adds sense to the third sentence.

        About ‘paper clips’, there’s no confusion. A ‘paper clip’ for papers completes the conclusion. But, in France, if ‘trombone’ is how you say it -how do you know when to clip it or play it? Thanks for your very interesting comment.


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