Bread Clips Are Way More Interesting Than You Think—and They’re All Made by Just One Company
Where would we be without them?
Bread clips are one of those handy little items that you may use every single day and never spend a single moment thinking about. You may even be wondering what a bread clip is, but they are so ubiquitous there is no doubt you have used one. It’s the little flexible plastic u-shaped locks that come on nearly every bag of bread in the grocery store.
They hold the tops of bags of potatoes or apples closed until you’re ready to use them. They are easy enough for a child to master and completely reusable, too, to ensure your English muffins and bagels stay fresh. Frequently they are printed with the use-by date of a product or emblazoned with the company slogan. They are absolutely everywhere closing billionsof bags each year. And almost every single one of those little plastic, indispensable, yet totally dispensable locks are made by one family-owned company, the Kwik Lok company of Yakima, Washington.
The company has been making Kwik Loks for over 66 years, ever since Floyd Paxton whittled the first one from a credit card, according to the company’s website (and first reported by Atlas Obscura.) Paxton was a manufacturing engineer by training and after World War II he found himself in the heart of Washington State’s apple country looking at a problem. The state’s apple industry had graduated from building wooden crates to ship their fruit to using plastic bags, but they didn’t like any of the options for closing them. Like most engineers, Paxton couldn’t help but try to solve the problem. Inspiration reportedly struck while he was on a plane eating a package of complimentary nuts, The Oregonian reports. He apparently had a small appetite for the nuts, though, because he couldn’t eat the entire bag and wanted to save them for later, but didn’t have a way to seal the bag. His novel solution, was to pull out his trusty pen knife (you could still bring knives on to planes in 1952, after all) and whittle an expired credit card into the first ever Kwik Lok.
Paxton realized that his humble whittling was a useful addition to the closure market and established the Kwik Lok Corporation in 1954 in California. He first sold them to the apple industry, eventually moving the company to Washington state, where their headquarters are still located.
These days they have six factories and 330 employees all working to make a product whose use has spread far beyond the produce aisle. According to Atlas Obscura, Kwik Lok says they now sell billions of bag closures every single year. Despite its exponential growth, the company is still a family business, too, now run by three sisters: Stephanie Paxton Jackson, Kimberly Paxton-Hagner, and Melissa Steiner.
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The next time you unlock a bag of bread, take a moment to appreciate the story behind that little, ubiquitous clip. It’s come a long way to be there.