Saturday, January 30, 2010

Paper Clips

Paper clips were amazing.

I am serious.  Consider the state of metallurgy 200 years ago.  If you have seen a blacksmith working at a history demonstration, think about just how hard it would be for that blacksmith to make a paper clip.  It might not even be possible.  You would have to get really good steel, with very few imperfections.  Even if it were possible, it would be incredibly expensive.  Before modern technology, wire was rare and expensive.  Someone would have to make the wire by hammering the metal into shape.

But now, we have machines that just churn the stuff out.  Wire is cheap and it is everywhere.  The base technology took about 100 years to perfect, and then some inventor in the late 1800's figured out how to use it to make the convenient paper fastener that we all use without a second thought.

The fact that we have such vast quantities of cheap paper is another marvel.  It used to be horribly expensive to make something white and flexible that you could write on.

That is real technical progress.  Not the fancy toys, but the ubiquitous tools.  Nobody in the year 1810 could have imagined a world full of paper clips.  What will we have in the future that we cannot imagine today?


Amanda said...

The inventor of the paperclip was from Norway. It is one of their "claims to fame". We were educated on this fact several times when we first arrived here.

Alleged Wisdom said...

That is not actually true. There is a Norwegian who had a patent for an early and impractical type of paper clip, but it is not the kind we use today.