Today staplers come in all colors, shapes, and sizes, from electric models that bind dozens of pages as fast as a blink to manual desktop models shaped like high heels, hedgehogs, or dragon skulls. Whatever its appearance, the humble stapler remains a triumph of design and ingenuity that has left its indelible mark on the modern office.
6 mm: Length of the legs on the world’s most popular office staple
366: US deaths attributed to misused or malfunctioning surgical staples and staplers from Jan. 2011 to March 2018
554.54 m (1819 ft): Length of the world’s longest staple chain
$194 million: 2018 revenues from stapling and punching for Acco, owner of market-leader Swingline
$199.5 million: Price paid for Swingline in 1970 ($1.3 billion in 2019 dollars)
$60 million: Value of art donated to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art by Belle Linsky, who founded Swingline with her husband Jack
From genetics to space exploration to quantum computing, we are living in a time when investment in, and expectations from, tech-fueled innovation are skyrocketing.
1879: McGill roars back onto the stapling scene, filing a patent for the McGill Single-Stroke Staple Press. Within a few years the market is flooded with competitors.
1927: The magazine stapler debuts, allowing multiple staples to be loaded into the device at once.
1939: The office supply company Parrot Speed Fastener Company (later rebranded as Swingline) debuts a top-loading model that becomes the industry standard.
1997: Following the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Swingline announces it will close its New York City plant.
When Quartz reporter Thu-Huong Ha met product design legend Naoto Fukasawa, the longtime advisor to Muji, she asked him to rate the design of several everyday office supplies. He was unimpressed with the calculator (“too much design”) but praised the humble stapler. “No one would misunderstand how to use it; it’s very intuitive,” he said, calling the standard desk model “an inevitable form.”
Ellepi Klizia: “The niche office-supply company outside Milan has a cult following for its sleek and modern designs… [T]his is a stapler that’s meant to be seen.”
El Casco: “Can drive a staple through a tall stack of papers almost too easily.”
Ace Pilot: “[B]y some magical confluence of genius and restraint, William Ferdinand Weber—inventor of the first Ace staplers—just knocked it out of the park.”
But there was a problem: Swingline only made gray and blue staplers, and Milton’s needed to pop on screen. A production designer painted it red, tweaked the shape with putty, and the most famous stapler in movie history was born. Swingline declined to license any official merchandise when the film was released. Its F-bombs and sex jokes didn’t quite fit the image of a staid Midwestern office supply company. But the company didn’t anticipate the ensuing spike in customer requests for red staplers, or the glut of counterfeit red Swinglines that suddenly popped up on the internet.