Back to all articles

The History of Duct Tape

Duct tape was created during World War II by a woman named Vesta Stoudt. She was working at the Green River Ordnance Plant near Amboy, Illinois (and had two sons serving in the U.S. Navy) when she noticed that the ammunition boxes she was tasked with packing and inspecting had a flaw. The boxes were sealed with paper tape and then the whole package was dipped in wax to make it waterproof. Although a tab was included to make the paper tape easy to open, it often tore off, so soldiers often struggled to pick away the wax to unseal the ammunition boxes while under fire. Stoudt was concerned, so she came up with the idea of creating a waterproof fabric tape and suggested it to her supervisors, but was unable to get support. So on February 10, 1943, she wrote a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt detailing the problem and her solution — she even included diagrams! President Roosevelt was impressed with her idea and passed the letter over to the War Production Board. The Board then mailed Stoudt a letter confirming that her idea had been approved. The Board tasked the Industrial Tape Corporation (Permacel) — then a Johnson & Johnson company — with manufacturing the product. According to Montreal’s The Gazette, the tape was made using a layer of tightly woven fabric called cotton duck sandwiched between a rubber-based adhesive and a coating of polyethylene, which had been invented a decade prior. Soldiers soon began calling the product “100-mile-per-hour tape” because not only was it an effective fix for the ammunition box problem, but it could also be used to fix nearly anything, from boots to fenders. Some historians assert that soldiers also called the adhesive “duck tape” because it shed water like a duck, but there is little evidence to support this theory. After the war ended, the tape was used to seal parts of ventilation ducts together and the name “duct tape” is often attributed to this use. (Notably, it was later discovered that the tape was not well-suited to this purpose and it is no longer used in this capacity.) The tape also changed from military green to the ubiquitous silver color we are familiar with today during the postwar period. Duck Tape, a brand of duct tape, was introduced in 1980 and the branded name soon became synonymous with the product. Today, duct tape is considered an essential tool in many homes as well as in the military due to its reliability, portability, and extreme versatility.

Share this article

card showing the history of rocking chairs

Your go-to guide for weird history facts

Subscribe to the FREE daily email that makes learning about history fun.