It’s the question that has plagued mankind for years. Is the tape that can be applied to almost any situation called duct tape or duck tape?
This amazing tape can trace its roots to the 1940s and World War II when the Johnson & Johnson company developed a waterproof, cloth-backed tape to seal ammunition cases. According to Kilmer House, the official historical blog of Johnson & Johnson, the idea for duct tape came from an ordnance plant worker named Vesta Stoudt.
Stoudt had two sons in the Navy at the time, and she realized that the thin paper tape used to secure the ammunition cases wasn’t strong enough to keep them closed. The tab of tape that soldiers used to open the boxes would tear off and break easily. Stoudt came up with an idea to use a waterproof, cloth-based tape to secure the cases. She told her supervisors about the idea, but they did not implement it. Stoudt decided to write a letter to President Roosevelt to tell him about her idea instead.
She explained to the president that she had two sons in the military, and they couldn’t have boxes of ammunition that took too long to open. After a few weeks, she received a reply from the War Production Board saying they were sending her idea to the appropriate division. The War Production Board later commissioned Johnson & Johnson to make the new tape.
Duck tape was known before this time, but it had no adhesive properties. It was known as plain cotton duck cloth that was used as far back as 1899 as decorative trim on clothing. The same cotton duck cloth, or duck tape, was used for wrapping steel cables or electrical conductors in the early 1900s.
It’s not exactly known why the new product used by the military was called duck tape, but the theory is that the tape was backed by duck cloth and was waterproof like a duck. It was soon being used by the soldiers for just about anything, from repairing weapons to repairing vehicles.
Duck tape was sold after the war in hardware stores. In 1950, the Melvin A. Anderson Company acquired the rights to the tape, and it began to be used in construction to wrap air ducts. This was when the color changed from Army green to silver to match the color of the ductwork. Following this time, the tape supposedly began to be called “duct tape,” but the first mention of duct tape wasn’t until 1960, and The New York Times didn’t call it “duct tape” until 1973.
So it’s not precisely known if the proper name of this versatile tape is duct tape or duck tape. It is also not known if people actually started calling it duck tape in the 1940s and 50s. Things may have been muddled even more when in 1980, Manco, Inc. branded their duct tape as “Duck Tape.”
Duct tape now comes in various colors and designs. There is even scented duct tape. Whether it’s called duct tape or duck tape doesn’t really matter. When the need arises to make a quick repair or to stick something together, you can call it whatever you want.