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Duct tape: An idea that stuck

Born of WWII necessity, duct tape is the Swiss army knife of tape

Mar. 21, 2012 - 06:47PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 21, 2012 - 06:47PM  |  
(Gannett Government Media)
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Duct tape by any other name

Known to most in the military as 100-mph tape the story being "whether you were transporting it in the vehicle, or [using] it on the vehicle ... it would hold at least up to 90 or 100 mph," according to the Army Quartermaster Museum’s Luther Hanson duct tape also enjoys a few other nicknames within the services. A quick sampling:
Gun tape: When duct tape first moved from the ammo cans into general use during World War II, this was one of its first nicknames.
1,000-mph tape: Because the Air Force just has to be faster at everything.
EB green tape: Among submariners, a throwback to the old "electric boat" days.
DPE tape: Demilitarization Protective Ensemble or nuclear tape.
200-foot tape: For its ability to hold up under 200 feet of water pressure.
Rigger’s tape: A favorite of parachute packers and sling loaders.
Missile tape: Among old missile makers.


Don't mess with military mothers. That's the lesson that sticks with the Duct Tape Guys after finally discovering the hidden history of duct tape's true origins. Few people know more about duct tape and its many uses than Jim Berg and Tim Nyberg. Together they have collected six books' worth of material, from the "Ultimate Duct Tape Book" to the "Duct Tape Halloween Guide."

But one mystery eluded the brothers-in-law.

"We've always known duct tape was first created for the military back in World War II," Nyberg says. "But we've never really been clear on specifically who or exactly why."

Until now.

Researching their second book, the pair had closed in on the first manufacturer of duct tape Johnson & Johnson's Permacel division, which used it to help keep moisture out of ammo cases.

But only in recent weeks did the pair learn the full story after a fan sent them a faded old newspaper clipping.

According to the Oct. 24, 1943, article in the Chicago Tribune, duct tape's genesis began with a ticked-off Navy mom named Vesta Stoudt who worked in an ammo packing plant in Dixon, Ill.

Turns out, the military was shipping ammo using a method that made it hard for troops in the field to get to it in a hurry. She had a better idea using a thin, cloth-based tape that would keep the bullets dry but could be ripped open in a blink. But, according to the article, her superiors shot her down.

So she wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After explaining her suggestion, she implored: "We can't let [the troops] down by giving them a box of cartridges that takes a minute or two to open, enabling the enemy to take lives that might be saved had the box been taped with strong tape that can be opened in a split second. Please, Mr. President, do something about this at once; not tomorrow or soon, but now. We packed nearly 10,000 today on my shift and all wrong."

Stoudt soon learned how quick the military can move when it's properly motivated. Within two weeks, she got a letter from the Office of the Chief of Ordnance saying her idea had been put on the fast track.

"This office wishes to thank you for your excellent suggestion and will give careful consideration to any future suggestions you may offer," read the letter. "It is cooperation of this type that will win the war."

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