History I Never Knew: The Invention of Duck Tape (Yes, it’s Duck Tape, not Duct Tape!)

It was a mother’s love, helped by the open-minded outlook of the president of the United States, that led to the invention of the most useful fastening material the world has ever seen.

stoudt

Vesta Stoudt, the tape she suggested, and the president who listened.

That mother was Vesta Stoudt. That president was Franklin Roosevelt.

After World War II broke out and Vesta’s two sons went off to serve in the Navy, she – like thousands of other women – pitched in to the war effort on the home front. She went to work in the Green River Ordnance Plant in Illinois, where she inspected and packed the cartridges that launched rifle grenades.

The cartridges were packed eleven to a box, and the boxes were taped and waxed to make them waterproof and damp-proof. The box flaps were sealed with thin paper tape. A tab of tape was left loose so that it could be pulled to release the waterproof wax coating and open the box.

But the thin paper tape wasn’t strong enough. The tabs tore off when soldiers and sailors pulled on them to open the ammo boxes. They were often under enemy fire while doing this, and their lives were put at risk as they scrambled to claw the boxes open.

Vesta Stoudt came up with a solution: seal the boxes with a strong, cloth-based waterproof tape instead of the thin paper tape. She suggested it to her supervisors and got nowhere. So Vesta went right to the top. She wrote to Roosevelt:

“I have two sons out there somewhere, one in the Pacific Island the other one with the Atlantic Fleet. You have sons in the service also. We can’t let them down by giving them a box of cartridges that takes a minute or more to open, the enemy taking their lives, that could have been saved had the box been taped with a strong cloth tape that can be opened in a split second.

“I didn’t know who to write to, Mr. President, so have written you hoping for your boys, my boys, and every man that uses the rifle grenade, that this package of rifle cartridges may be taped with the correct tape.”

The letter got the attention of the right people. Because Johnson & Johnson was experienced in making surgical adhesive tapes, the War Production Board asked that company to make the tape that Stoudt had suggested.

The material was name “Duck Tape” because, as the story goes, it was 1) waterproof, like a duck and 2) it was made with cotton duck fabric. The tape soon became known as “100 Mile an Hour Tape” in the military. Because it was strong and waterproof, soldiers used it to repair just about everything.

Vesta Stoudt received a letter from President Roosevelt and earned the Chicago Tribune’s War Worker Award for her idea and her persistence.

Sometimes it’s the little things, and the little people, that make the biggest difference. Well done and thank you, Vesta Stoudt.

2 Responses to “History I Never Knew: The Invention of Duck Tape (Yes, it’s Duck Tape, not Duct Tape!)”

  1. Patrick J. Daly (@pjdaly7) Says:

    Great piece of the historical mosaic that comprises our fascinating country. Thank goodness for Vesta Stoudt.

  2. Caterpickles cleans house, Part 4 | CATERPICKLES Says:

    […] have Vesta Stoudt to thank for that. At the time she was working in the Green River Ordnance Plant, where she […]

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