Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Duct tape, originally known as duck tape, is a strong, fabric-based, multi-purpose adhesive tape, usually silver in color and 2 inches (50 mm) wide. It was originally developed during World War II in 1942 as a waterproof sealing tape for ammunition casings. Permacel, then a division of Johnson & Johnson, used a rubber-based adhesive to help the tape resist water and a fabric backing to facilitate ripping. Because of these properties, it was also used to quickly repair military equipment, including jeeps, guns, and aircraft. Because the original tape was made of cotton duck fabric, and it repelled moisture like "water off a duck's back", it was originally referred to as "duck tape".
After the war, the housing industry boomed and people started using duct tape for many other purposes. The name "duct tape" came from its use on heating and air conditioning ducts, a purpose for which it, ironically, has been deemed ineffective by the state of California and by building codes in most other places in the U.S. (which means professionals are restricted from using it in systems they install, but do-it-yourselfers are not). However metallized and aluminum tapes used by professionals are still often called "duct tapes".
A medical study announced on major news networks on October 15, 2002, stated that application of duct tape can be used as an effective treatment for warts. Duck Products annually sponsors a competition that offers a college scholarship to the most stylish prom formalwear made from duct tape. The number of uses to which duct tape can be put is a source of humor (many of these are collected in books by "The Duct Tape Guys"*). Some people enjoy making novelty items out of duct tape or decorating objects with it.
Increased interest in creating these novelty and fashion pieces (such as duct tape prom dresses and handbags)has given rise to designer duct tape handbags, wallets, belts and related items. Crafters quickly realized the art, difficulty and time involved in creating the quality pieces they wanted and so began looking for already-made duct tape fashions. Love My Bag, LLC, which is known for retailing major name-brand designers such as Prada and Fendi, began retailing the designer Vanessa Jean in an exclusive line of duct tape handbags.
Duct tape is referred to in engineering circles (usually humorously) as 'the ultimate material,' and is commonly found in engineers' and technicians' emergency toolkits. NASA engineers' faith in duct tape as an emergency tool was rewarded in 1970, when the square carbon dioxide filters from Apollo 13's failed command module had to be modified to fit round receptacles in the lunar module, which was being used as a lifeboat after an explosion en route to the moon. Engineers designed a work-around using duct tape and other items on board Apollo 13 that got the lunar module CO2 scrubbers working again, saving the lives of the three astronauts onboard (the astronauts built the filter adapters from directions relayed up from mission control).
Ed Smylie, one of the NASA mission control engineers who designed the scrubber modification in just two days, said later that he knew the problem was solvable when it was confirmed that duct tape was on the spacecraft: "I felt like we were home free," he said in 2005. "One thing a Southern boy will never say is 'I don't think duct tape will fix it.'"
The epigram "duct tape is like the Force – it has a light side and a dark side, and it binds the Universe together" has been attributed to science fiction fan Carl Zwanzig. Red Green of The Red Green Show refers to duct tape as "the handyman's secret weapon". MacGyver was also famous for his inventive use of duct tape.
- The Duct Tape Guys (Jim Berg and Tim Nyberg) have written seven books about Duct Tape (to date 2005). their bestselling books have sold over 1.5 million copies and feature real and wacky uses of duct tape. In 1994 they coined the phrase, "It Ain't Broke, It Just Lacks Duct Tape." Added to that phrase in 1995 with the publication of their WD-40 Book was, "Two rules get you through life: If it's stuck and it's not supposed to be, WD-40 it. If it's not stuck and it's supposed to be, duct tape it." Their site features thousands of duct tape uses from people around the world from fashions to auto repair (and yes, wart removal). http://www.ducttapeguys.com
Other names for duct tape (including the Danish, "Jesus Tape") have been documented at length by The Duct Tape Guys at http://www.ducttapeguys.com/duckvsduct.html
- OED entries for "duct" and "duck", which state that "duck tape" was the original term
- Etymology provided by William Safire, New York Times
- Duct tape history
- U.S. Navy article referring to the origins of the name.
- Associated Press article, referring to the use of duct tape on Apollo 13.
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