When was the ball point pen invented? What about paper clips, or fax machines? Vic Hollefruend, our Retail Furniture Manager, is on the case, researching and compiling everything you would want to know about who, where, why, when, and how of office supplies. We are pleased to present Vic’s History of Office Stuff.
Tale of Two Inventors
The first paper shredder is credited to prolific inventor Abbot Augustus Low of Horseshoe, located on the Western shore of Horseshoe Lake, in Piercefield, New York. His patent for a “waste paper receptacle” (specification pictured at right) to offer an improved method of disposing of waste paper was filed on February 2, 1909, and received the U.S. patent number 929,960 on August 31, 1909. Alas, Mr. Low must have been a procrastinator because his invention was never manufactured.
However, twenty-six years later, when the world was drowning in used paper and headed towards a war of global proportions, a toolmaker named Adolf Ehinger, took his inspiration from a kitchen utensil and invented a device to render thrown-away paper unreadable. The story goes like this…
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived a little old tool maker by the name of Adolf Ehinger. He was a simple, hard-working man who made and repaired tools and small machines by day in his shop in Balingen, Germany. But, when no one was looking, the mild mannered tool-man secretly printed anti-Nazi material and propaganda.
One day, a neighbor spotted some of the printed material in his garbage can, and confronted Ehinger threatening to report him to authorities. The neighbor didn’t report him, but the incident started Adolf the tinkerer thinking; both about what society was coming to and what he was throwing away.
“He was not a friend of the Third Reich,” Ehinger’s daughter-in-law, Renate Ehinger, said. “He thought, when it gets to the point you can’t write what you want to write, it was time to do something.”
Ehinger thought, if he couldn’t change the world he could at least do something about his garbage. The question was “how”?
From Pasta to Paper
The “midnight printer” found the answer in the kitchen in the form of his pasta maker.
Commonly used by German families to make both pasta and their more traditional “spaetzle”, the hand-cranked devices turned sheets of dough into strips. Using that concept, he built a hand-cranked shredder inside a wooden frame, one with an opening wide enough to accept sheets of paper. Later, he constructed one with an electric motor. He patented the invention in Germany in 1935, and soon after that, took his “aktenvernichter”, or paper shredder, to a trade show.
“He was all excited and went there with great hopes,” said Mrs. Ehinger. “But all the people did was laugh at him. They said there was no way you would ever need something to shred paperwork. He came home very disappointed.”
Fortunately for cloak and dagger types, the arch nemesis of identity thieves everywhere was not discouraged.
Finding the Right Fit
Ehinger later marketed his shredders to government agencies and financial institutions converting from hand-crank to the electric motor. Ehinger’s company, EBA Maschinenfabrik, manufactured the first cross-cut paper shredders in 1959 and continue to do so to this day as EBA Krug & Priester GmbH & Co. in Balingen.
The U.S. embassy in Iran used strip-cut paper shredders to reduce paper pages to strips before the embassy was taken over in 1979.
After Colonel Oliver North told Congress that he used a Schleicher Intimus 007 S cross-cut model to shred Iran-Contra documents, sales for that company increased nearly 20 percent in 1987.
Until the mid-1980s, it was rare for paper shredders to be used by non-government entities. After the 1988 Supreme Court decision in California v. Greenwood, in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the warrantless search and seizure of garbage left for collection outside of a home, paper shredders became more popular among US citizens with privacy concerns.
It followed that anti-burning laws, concern over landfills, industrial espionage, and identity theft concerns created greater demand for paper shredding.
The US Federal Trade Commission estimates that over 9 million cases of identity theft take place per year in the USA alone and recommends that individuals defend themselves against identity theft by shredding financial documents before disposal.
So there you are. Who would have thought that a kitchen pasta maker would ever lead to a global industry focused on pure destruction? ….kinda’ gets ya’, don’t it?
Hmmmmm…. I wonder if a shredder can make pasta.