Tools of the Trade: In 1953, the bread clip came along with a fresh take

For some, they just keep bread fresh. For others, they’re an obsession.
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· 4 min read

There are devices in the retail world we take for granted. Let’s stop doing that.

Bag clip

  • Patented: 1953 (for a device that applied clips), 1973 (for the clip)
  • First patent holder: Floyd Paxton

Finding closure: In 1952, Floyd Paxton was on a flight home to Washington state and didn’t finish his bag of peanuts. He wanted to cinch up the bag to save for later, so he took a credit card out of his wallet, used a pocketknife to cut out a notched tag that we’d recognize today as a bag clip, and fastened it shut.

It sounds apocryphal, as invention stories sometimes do, but that’s how Paxton told it.

Paxton had sold nailing machines to apple orchards, which at the time shipped apples in wooden crates that were nailed shut. But when the industry began switching to plastic bags in the 1950s, growers closed the bags with tape or rigid wire. As a more reusable and elegant option, Paxton began to manufacture and sell bag clips.

In 1953, Paxton applied for a patent for a device that mechanically fastened the clips onto bags; it was granted in 1955. (A patent for the clip itself, curiously, wasn’t granted until 1973.)

He formed the Kwik Lok Corporation in 1954. And it grew, fittingly, at a steady clip.

Plot twist: You’d think the clip’s rival, the twist-tie, such an intuitive solution for closing bags, would have preceded the bag clip by a century, but they became popular at around the same time.

Earl Burford, a farmer in Lindsay, Oklahoma, filed a patent in 1945 for a machine that baled hay with wire; it was granted in 1951. He and his son, Charles, set out to adapt the idea to a similar machine that closed plastic bags with thin-gauge wire. Son Charles founded Burford Co. in 1961 to sell the machine, for which father Earl secured a patent in 1964.

Decades later, like King Kong and Godzilla, the twist-tie and clip still do glorious battle in the bread aisle.

“Even the combatants agree,” a Packaging Insights article noted in 2013, “there’s no imminent sign of a clear winner.”

Classify your occlupanid. A subreddit for bread clip devotees has more than 1,300 members. Along with a related website, the Holotypic Occlupanid Research Group, it is intent on documenting the objects in their many forms.

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Somewhere between an homage and parody of scientific classification, both the Reddit group and website regard these occlupanids (from the Latin, occlu, “to close,” and pan, “bread”) as living creatures. They are parasites that are “dorsoventrally flattened for ease of moving between the folds of plastic on which they live,” the website explains. “The principal feature of an occlupanid is its ‘oral groove,’ an invagination in what we’re pretty sure is the anterior region of the body.”

HORG was founded in 1994 by John Daniel, who told The Lifted Brow that he was at a friend’s apartment when he spotted a bread clip wedged between floorboards. “I’d never really noticed how biomechanical they looked,” he explained. “They gripped firmly onto my mind and haven’t let go since.”

Upper crust. For grocery stores, bread tags’ colors can indicate when to remove older loaves from shelves, because, as the Kwik Lok website explains, they “are available in seven colors that permit color coding pull dates.”

Naturally, shoppers want to decode the color system, lest they end up purchasing hamburger buns baked on Monday when they could have grabbed Tuesday’s.

While the color system is not universal, several sources say:

  • Monday–blue
  • Tuesday–green
  • Thursday–red
  • Friday–white
  • Saturday–yellow (Industrial bakeries often take Sundays and Wednesdays off.)

But two can play at that game: twist ties use the same system.

Kwik on the uptake. Paxton died in 1975. Kwik Lok still dominates the industry, with factories in the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, and Ireland. They sell “billions” of bag clips yearly, a Kwik Lok executive told Atlas Obscura.

And the machines that affix clips to bags keep evolving—getting faster, safer and more compact. Behold the Kwik Lok 910 model, featured in a YouTube video (accompanied by that Reliance Source Music classic, Guitar Fantasy-42976).

It attaches clips to as many as 120 bags per minute, but slow-motion captures the transformative moment. The open bags move along a conveyor belt, wiggling slightly as the clip is attached. Then each bag assumes a more substantial form, as if it had just drawn a deep, fulfilling breath.

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.