Henry Petroski is a professor of engineering at Duke University, and the author of a great many books. One of those books, The Evolution of Useful Things, examines the history of paperclips, zippers, Big Mac packaging, and other small artifacts of modern life. Each case study presents a similar story: small need-based inventions, patiently iterated, have been refined down to a perfect, simple form. The paperclip, for instance, was the end point of innovations in wire manufacture, steel milling, and the inadequacies of straight pins.
In 1958, Mauras Logan was working at Thomas and Betts, an electrical-products company. Manufacturing bombers for the air force, workers knotted together bundles of loose wires with waxed nylon cord. It was inefficient and sometimes crippling to worker's hands. In response, Logan invented the cable tie: a grooved metal strap, fed through a small, stamped-metal pawl, created an instant, irreversible knot. Fifty years later, the zip-tie has progressed according to Petroski's Law, evolving into a spare nylon machine. The design of zip-ties has been solved to an irreducible degree.Read More