Opinion: The history and uses of duck tape 


I just discovered I have six rolls of duck tape. That shouldn’t have been a surprise since I often coincide a trip to the hardware store with short-term memory loss, a moment in my day when I can’t remember if I have duck tape. As a result, if I spot it, I buy it – just to be safe.

After all, my life, like yours, is filled with unexpected emergencies. Most of which are readily fixed with duck tape.

The surprise in my discovery, however, was that four of the rolls of tape I found were different colors and patterns. There was a camouflage roll, a red and black striped roll, an orange and yucky brown pattern, and a black roll. I don’t recall buying them. I always get the silver stuff.

That was enough to send me into research mode. Duck tape was first used by electrical engineers in 1936 to protect rubber-insulated power cables.  The stuff was made then, as now, by spraying the back of heavy duck canvas with a mixture of powdered aluminum, and painting the front with a sticky adhesive. Duck canvas, hence the duck tape name.

In 1942 Gimbels Department Store in New York sold venetian blinds held together with the stuff, and during World War II a defense plant worker wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt recommending duck tape be used to seal ammunition boxes. The reason was that duck tape could be ripped off instantly while the traditional glued seal could take several minutes to pry apart.

The change would save lives, the worker claimed. FDR agreed and duck tape went to work for the war effort.

After the war, duck tape use waned until 1950 when a plumbing supply company in Cleveland, Ohio discovered its value in sealing furnace ducts. The company acquired the rights to the tape and started calling it duct tape.

The name stuck until the 1970s when another firm started manufacturing it under its original name of duck tape.

Since then people have found more uses for the stuff than anyone has ever counted. Boaters use it to plug leaks in boats. Pilots call it “500 Mile-an-Hour Tape” for its occasional use in temporary aircraft repairs.

Schools and fraternities have annual contests to design clothing and other objects solely from duck tape. I once saw a bikini swim suit made from duck tape. I hoped at the time that it had a lining made from something other than tape.

No matter what you use it for or what color you prefer, there is nothing better than duck tape.

Wait, I just found a roll of Gorilla Tape.

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