Who Invented the Staple?

By Contributing Writer

  • Overview

    No office can do without them, but most people don't stop to wonder who came up with the handy little invention: the staple. The staple now binds everything from paper to surgical wounds, but you might be surprised to learn how much history and ultimate significance there is behind this simple invention.
  • History

    The earliest recorded account of a staple is from France in the 18th century. Allegedly, it was developed for the use of King Louis XV of France. Some accounts have these early handmade staples being made of gold and encrusted with jewels and stamped with the insignia of the royal court. This invention was not shared with the masses and does not surface again in accounts until Henry R. Heyl of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania applied for a patent in September 1877 titled "Improvement in devices for inserting metallic staples." This was the beginning of the evolution of paper fastening machines that would lead to today's version of a stapler.
  • Misconceptions

    Samuel Slocum of Poughkeepsie, NY is often credited with the inventing the first stapler in 1841. He entered a patent titled "Machine for Sticking Pins into Paper, (US Patent 2275). Although his invention might be seen as a stapler (or paper fastening machine) the point was actually not to fasten paper but to quickly package multiple sewing pins. However, there is nothing in the wording of the patent itself to prove otherwise. Common sense however, would dictate that a machine that sticks multiple pins into a single sheet of paper is intending the pins themselves to be the final product.

  • Types

    Staples have evolved quite a bit over the years. One of the first paper fasteners was an eyelet machine for leather and material which was also advertised as paper fastener. Next the brass paper fastener was introduced. These metal fasteners were patented in 1866 and are listed among the purchases made for the members of the 1869 Illinois Constitutional Convention. Individual, preformed staples came next in the 1870's along with the first desktop staple machine. In this early model, only one staple could be inserted at a time. The first stapling machine that held a magazine of preformed, wire staples was patented in 1878. The Century Stapling machine, patented in 1897 held staples formed from straight pins. Magazine staplers became dominant around the 1940's and electric staplers were introduced in the 1950's.
  • History of the word staple

    Up until the 1920's paper fasting devices were known by many different names. The earliest recorded use of the word "stapler" appears in a U.S. patent from 1887. Another record dates back to Munsey's Magazine in 1901, which carried an advertisement for the Century Pin Paper Stapler. However, the word was not often used in advertising until twenty years later. Terminology up until then included "paper fastener" "staple binder" and "staple machine."
  • Medical use

    Today, the staple has expanded from simply being a way for people to hold loose papers together. Surgeons often use them as substitutes for sutures or stitches in their procedures. Staples use for surgical reasons, although employing the same basic function differ slightly from paper staples. Surgical staples are pre-shaped into an "M" and when closed the two ends meet, forming a rectangle rather than a straight line like the traditional staple.
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