For some of us the title evokes images of There’s Something About Mary (1998) when Ben Stiller’s character, Ted Stroehmann a 16-year-old high-schooler, is moments from taking his dream girl Mary Jensen to the prom when tragedy strikes: a painful, embarrassing zipper accident. Cut to the next scene of the ambulance hauling the young man off to the emergency room with his manhood snarled within the metallic teeth of his zipper.
According to a recent paper published in the British Journal of Urology International by a University of California San Francisco urology resident named Herman Singh Bagga, an estimated 17,616 patients were admitted into US emergency rooms with genital injuries associates with zippers from 2002 to 2010.
A total of 523 cases from 100 representative hospitals — institutes who participate in the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), which is run by the US Consumer Products Safety Commission — were analyzed in order to assess national estimates. The 100 hospitals treated 2,695 cases of penile injury, of which 523 (or 19.4 percent) involved zippers.
Fortunately, the study found that 98 percent of boys, teens, and grown men who went to the ER with zipper-related penile injuries did not require additional hospitalization.
It was however recommended that until boys are more dexterous, they should not be placed into zipper-fitted trousers. Additionally, men should wear more form fitting undergarments or convert to button-fly pants to lessen the likelihood of a cringe and scream provoking snag.
If one should ever find themselves afflicted by this injury, Dr. Steven M. Selbst, a professor and vice chair of pediatrics at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia recommends generously saturating the area with mineral oil, wait about 30 minutes, and the skin should easily slip from the metal teeth.
The initial patent for an “automatic, continuous clothing closure” was held in 1851 by Elias Howe, the inventor of the Lockstitch Sewing Machine. He patented the lockstitch mechanism in 1846. Patents designate and protect intellectual rights of inventions and products.
For unexplained reasons Howe did not take advantage of his potential zipper idea, perhaps because he was in a nasty nine year litigation with inventors Isaac Singer and Allen Wilson. They had violated his sewing machine patent by imitating Howe’s lockstitch mechanism in their own products. In 1856 Howe won his patent case and was awarded profit shares. When he died in 1867 at 48 Howe was a multimillionaire.
Several decades later, mechanical engineer and inventor Whitcomb L. Judson submitted a patent for a metal fastener called a “clasp-locker,” the precursor to the modern zipper. In 1913, a few years after Judson’s death, a Swedish-American engineer named Gideon Sundback improved upon the slightly flawed design of the zipper’s predecessor and redesigned the device into a more streamlined product called the Talon. The fastener was later dubbed “zippers” by B. F. Goodrich in 1923, when they installed the closures to their rubber galoshes.
[Image via Shutterstock]