An unknown artisan made the first-known stapler for King Louis XV of France in the 18th century. Each staple bore the royal seal, and the King could use the device to hold his decrees and documents together. The history and development of staplers had begun.
As paper become widely available in the 19th century, people needed better a way to hold it together. In 1866, George McGill got the first patent for a bendable brass paper fastener. In 1867, he got the patent on a functional staple press (as opposed to opulently decorative stapler – the French king’s staples were said to be made of gold and embellished with precious stones!) to drive the fasteners through paper. He showed his invention at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Competitors C.H. Gould (who got an English patent) and Albert Kletzker (who got another patent in the U.S.) came up with versions of the stapler. Henry Heyl received a patent for the first stapler that could both drive the fastener through paper and clinch it to hold in 1877.
A device called the Hotchkiss, that used a wired-together row of staples, came out in 1895, but it required so much force that users sometimes had to whack the plunger part of it with a hammer or mallet to drive the staple into the paper.
McGill seems to have won the early rounds of staple invention history when he produced and patented the McGill Single-Stroke staple press in 1879, and the device was commercially successful. The success of the McGill press is remarkable because the machine weighed in at 2.5 pounds and applied just one stapler, half an inch wide, at a time, even though a stapler that held a magazine of staples came out a year earlier.
With the turn of the century, a variety of devices of “clipless” machines that didn’t use wires but instead cut and folded paper in a way that held it together were introduced.
Bookbinders used machines that employed wires to hold books together, which evolved into the foot-operated Boston Wire Stitcher machine. A desk stapler later came out in 1923.
Swingline invented the first stapler that was easy to load with a row of staples in a channel in 1937, and the design of that stapler hasn’t changed much since then.
In 1941 a “four-way” stapler was introduced that could fasten paper to wood or cardboard, as well as fasten a stack of papers together.
The mid-twentieth century witnessed the accelerated development of different kinds of staplers that went far beyond just holding paper together. Returning World War II soldiers came up with the idea of a powered nail gun, not unlike the machine guns they had used, to use in the post-war construction boom.
From the invention of electric and pneumatically-powered staplers and nail guns, more refinements and differentiation entered the history of staplers, and staple sizes and wires evolved as well. Flat-crowned staples that had once been standard were joined by rounded staples with long legs that could hold cabling to baseboards or fence wire to fenceposts. Bindery staplers evolved into saddle-stitching machines that could run large batches of magazines through automatically, or create booklets, church bulletins, and programs for concerts and plays.
Shops, artists, and proud parents preserve artwork in frames using framing staplers to apply flat nails called “points” to the backs of picture frames. These can bend sideways to admit backing into the space at the back of the frame, and then bend back to hold the backing and the artwork it secures in the frame.
Electric and pneumatic-powered staplers are essential tools for creating upholstered furniture. Ergonomically designed staplers attach floorboards to each other and to subfloors without causing the boards to split or the users to develop aching backs from bending over to attach flooring.
Heavy-duty nail guns erect framing for homes under construction. There are even specialized, powered staplers and nail guns used to affix molding to the top of walls or baseboards to the bottom without leaving unsightly metal visible. Industrial staplers keep cartons closed with wide-crown staples, and a plier-type of stapler squeezes fasteners called “hog rings” to close large bags or hold wire fencing together.
Manual staplers didn’t disappear, however. Slap or hammer staplers affix roofing felt or house wrap. And of course, the ubiquitous office stapler still sits atop almost every desk or breakroom countertop and resides in many elementary classrooms to affix student work to bulletin boards, along with colorful teaching aids.
Two humble individual office staplers have even gained lasting, global fame via film and social media. The cult classic “Office Space” features a character, Milton, who is so attached to his stapler, and so frustrated by its constant disappearance (and being asked to move his desk multiple times) that he ultimately burns down the office building that houses the company that employs him.
The red stapler that played the role of Milton’s beloved was actually custom-painted for the film because the model only came in black at the time. Its manufacturer, Swingline, ultimately embraced the stapler’s fame and began mass-producing red staplers for employees and customers. The red Swingline is now a best seller for fans of the film.
Another stapler took the social media road to fame. The Fourth Floor Stapler got its name because of its prominent label declaring “FLOOR 4. DO NOT REMOVE.” This label was such an irresistible invitation to disobedience that the stapler made its way to the 2nd floor. From there, the stapler traveled to destinations across the globe. Its chaperones photographed it in front of famous structures in Europe and the US, in a sauna, and even undersea where a goggled scuba diver displayed it in a photo that appears to have been taken in front of a sunken plane.
It isn’t necessary for your stapler to become famous, but it should at least be useful for its appointed task. Whether you are using a stapler to fasten paper or to attach wood framing to build a house or a deck, you’ll be able to find the right tool for the job. Matching a fastening tool to the appropriate type, size, and gauge of staple or nail is critical to the success of the project. Whether you are using hog rings to close bags of carnival goldfish to hand out to lucky winners or long reach staplers to attach oversized paper at the center, the history of staplers will have developed the right tool for your task.