Paper clips are free speech, too

By Jim Lee

People have been arrested for wearing paper clips.
This brings to mind a number of ways a person needing criminal recognition could accomplish this.
Did violators simply wear something made of paper clips, thus allowing others to view certain body parts forbidden to public display by glancing between those bent wires? Not so, friends and neighbors. People have actually found themselves taken into custody for simply attaching a regular, run-of-the-mill office paper clip to otherwise acceptable attire.
Curious yet? Want an answer? I can’t say right now because this is called a “tease.” The answer won’t come until the end of today’s column.
Aside from being the source of a crime, the paper clip is usually taken for granted. When the term “paper clip” is brought up, what comes to mind? We usually think of a short steel wire, sometimes in bright colors, bent into two loops and used for holding sheets of paper together, the standard double-oval Gem clip.
Paper clips come in a variety of shapes and sizes. On the Internet — — shows pictures and gives brief descriptions of 34 different kinds of paperclips in a paper clip “gallery.”
The reason for such variety, in part, is varying applications. I suspect that this wide variety, though, results from patent protection on so many of these configurations of bent wire.
The first of these patents was in 1867 by Samuel B. Fay. It was a bent-wire design as most are to this day. Before the bent-wire paper clip, pins were commonly used to hold papers together after New York physician John Ireland Howe designed and built the first machine to mass produce straight pins in 1835.
Some people used wax ribbon seals between pages as far back as the Middle Ages. Steel wire with rounded off sharp points became available toward the end of the 1800s. This really got things started.
The modern paper clip really got going around the turn of the last century. In 1899 Norwegian inventor Johan Vaalar acquired a German patent for the device and received an American patent a couple of years after that. (At the time Norway had no patent law.) Vaalar’s design was very similar to the double-oval slide-on paper fastener we are so accustomed to now, but not exactly the same.
So Gem Manufacturing, Ltd., in England came up with the modern double-oval paper clip in 1907, even though American William Middlebrook received a patent for it eight years earlier.
In the wide variety of paper clips in use today, the Gem design remains the most prominent, according to In 1907 the Gem brand claimed a “. . . a slide on . . . (to) hold securely your letters, documents, or memoranda without perforation or mutilation …”
Now, back to getting arrested for a paper clip (thought I forgot, eh?). Under Nazi occupation during World War II, Norwegians were not allowed to wear buttons displaying their king’s initials. So they came up with the next best thing. This is where the paper clip enters the scene.
Since the paper clip was a Norwegian invention, citizens wore them on their lapels, not only as a substitute for the king’s initials but as a protest to the foreign occupation of their nation and a symbol of their national pride. The Germans didn’t like that, either, so people got arrested for wearing paper clips.
I guess the Nazis didn’t think about the gadget first getting a patent from Germany.

Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: