A WW2 Idea That Stuck: The Invention of Duct Tape

  • During World War Two in 1943, Vesta Stoudt introduced the idea of duct tape.
  • Stoudt wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, suggesting that adhesive tapes could be used to improve ammunition boxes.
  • Johnson & Johnson, a healthcare company, manufactured duct tapes for the government.
  • Stoudt received the Chicago Tribune’s War Worker Award for her contributions.

Vesta Stoudt: Inventor of Duct Tape

An Illinois mother named Vesta Stoudt invented duct tape in 1943. She developed the adhesive tape to help protect soldiers’ lives during World War Two.

Stoudt’s two sons served in the U.S. Navy throughout the war. Clarence served in the Atlantic, whereas the other son, Lowell, served in the Pacific as a construction mechanic. Therefore, she wanted to contribute to the betterment of the US military.

The mother of eight worked at the Green River Ordnance Plant near Amboy, Illinois, in order to make ends meet. She rose to prominence after sending President Franklin D. Roosevelt a letter suggesting that adhesive tape could be used to improve ammunition boxes. In the letter, Stoudt outlined the problem and offered an adequate solution.

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Her main idea was to use strong cloth tape to close seams and make a tab.

From the Chicago Sunday Tribune, October 24, 1943

Stoudt’s letter to the President read, “We can’t let them down by giving them a box of cartridges that takes a minute or more to open. Instead, we could save soldiers’ lives if the box seals with a strong cloth tape that can open in a split second.”

“I didn’t know whom to write to, Mr. President. So I have written to you hoping for your boys, my boys, and every man that uses the rifle grenade that this package of rifle cartridges uses the correct tape,” she added.

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When she sent the idea to the President, he instantly forwarded the recommendation to the War Production Department. They immediately replied within a week that they had started working according to Stoudt’s advice.

Following Stoudt’s idea, Johnson & Johnson became the first company to manufacture duct tape.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
Vesta Stoudt wrote directly to the President, Franklin D. Roosevelt about her idea of duct tape. It was in full swing within a week.

Reasons for Invention

Stoudt got the idea of waterproof paper tape when working at the Green River Ordnance Plant. During her shifts she noticed that paper tape would rip apart while opening ammunition boxes, coming to the realization that it was not durable enough to last during battles. A change was definitely needed.

Opening up the ammunition boxes wasted time. In war, wasting even a second or two could mean death. Therefore, the lady came up with her idea of a robust waterproof tape made from thin cloth coated in plastic which could be ripped off a lot easier.

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Before Stoudt’s eureka moment though, numerous variations of adhesive cotton tape already existed on the market, and so Stoudt should not be attributed as the inventor of adhesive tape. However, she did play a vital role in the invention of duct tape as we know it today.

The Chicago Tribune awarded Stoudt the War Worker award for her innovative idea.

Duct Tape in WW2
Duct tape could be used on weapons as seen here on the M3 Machine Gun or even on aircraft.

Johnson & Johnson – The manufacturers of the first Duct Tape

Johnson & Johnson is among the largest healthcare companies. They manufacture everything from baby lotion, first sold in 1944, to their latest range of plasters. In addition, they were the first to make white, sterile, absorbent cotton.

The government asked the company to mass-produce plaster for every skin tone, which meant they could mass-produce antiseptic surgical supplies like sutures, gauze, and bandages.

Hence, Johnson & Johnson played a vital role in mass-producing military necessities in the wars. These included gas masks, parts for aircraft, camouflage material, and eventually duct tape.

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Chief Historian of Johnson & Johnson, Margaret Gurowitz, said of the 1945 annual report, “War production used paper tape on ammo boxes, with a tab to open them. Workers then dipped the entire box in wax to make it waterproof. But the paper tape was fragile, and the tabs often tore off, leaving soldiers frantically trying to open the box while under fire.”

Johnson & Johnson commented on the invention of duct tape. “In Milltown, New Jersey, the Industrial Tape Corporation plant was one of the largest suppliers of industrial tape for armed forces. These pressure-sensitive tapes, easy to handle and versatile in use, saved valuable time in manufacturing and packaging war materials.”

Gurowitz added, “The military called the waterproof, cloth-backed, green tape 100-mile-per-hour tape because they could use it to fix anything, from fenders on jeeps to boots.”

The company added, “A wide variety of tapes serve many particular purposes for the aviation industry. Tanks, planes, and ammunition destined for overseas use thousands of special waterproof tapes”. Looks like the idea well and truly stuck!

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