It’s hard to imagine working my job without paper clips.In fact, it’s hard to imagine working at any job – particularly those with any kind of paper work – without seeing at least a couple paper clips around.But there was such a time.
The paper clip is falsely credited as being invented by a Norwegian in the late 1890’s.He received a patent from Germany because, at the time, Norway didn’t have a patents office.He received a patent from the US just few years after that. (However,he was not in fact the true first to patent a paper clip – he merely patented one design.)
Nonetheless, the paper clip is considered by Norwegians to be a national symbol. During World War II, it was illegal for Norwegians to wear buttons or any other kinds of images of their King on their clothing.So, as an act of resistance to Nazism and its disgusting rhetoric, Norwegians wore paper clips on their shirts.The paper clip is said to have beenchosen not only because it is a national symbol, but also because its purpose was to hold things together.
Paper clips took many shapes and sizes over the years. The paper clip worn during WW2 didn't look like the ones we have on our desks now. Those are called “gem” paper clips. This design is only the last in a long line of designs tried and, ultimately, rejected.You see, the perfect paper clip had to be one that was sturdy enough to hold pages together but not mutilate them upon removal.The “gem” design was first patented in November 1899 by William Middlebrook of Connecticut.He also designed the machine that made those gems (pun intended J).
Why the sudden interest in the humble paper clip, you ask?Am I just bored at work and looking for something to write about?(Well yeah… kind of… J)BUT ALSO…
I watched a wonderful documentary this weekend about The Paper Clip Project.This was a project started by the middle school in a small rural town in Tennessee called Whitwell.It all started when the school decided it needed to teach its kids about tolerance.How best could they do that?There were only a handful of black families in the district.Even fewer Hispanics.And no Catholics or Jews.One of the teachers at the school suggested they study about The Holocaust and the principal agreed.It was a subject that not many of the people in Whitwell knew much about – including the school staff themselves – and would also teach many aspects of tolerance at once (touching on religion, race, and sexual preference), and also teach an important part of history that often only gets briefly glossed over in high school.
During one of the first discussions about The Holocaust, the number of those killed (6 million Jews, and an estimate 5 million Romany, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other political prisoners) was brought up and a student asked “what IS six million, anyway?I’ve never seen six million of anything.”The teacher said he hadn’t either and told the student that if he could find something to collect, and could collect six million of them, they would then both see something they’d never seen before.So, somehow the idea of collecting paper clips was suggested and, after doing some research about paper clips – which led them to the story about Norwegians wearing them in protest of Nazism – the Paper Clip Project was born.
Ultimately, after years of letters written to celebrities and politicians, and after the media got hold of the story and broadcast it on NBC Nightly News, more than 20 million paper clips were collected by the school.On several occasions, the entire town got to meet, and often hug and cry with, several survivors who wanted to meet these wonderful kids and share their first hand accounts of the Holocaust.
The principal’s casual comment at a dinner with a couple of German journalists who took an interest in the Project early on sparked the planning and building of their own Holocaust Memorial.The journalists actually tracked down one of the cattle cars used in one of the death train transports during WW2 and transported it to the Whitwell Middle School.
The documentary made me laugh and cry.It made me question my own prejudices (a rural southern community caring about tolerance?!?).In a time when I often wonder why I had a child in such a screwed-up world, I found myself thinking “that’s why – because our kids are the keys to our redemption.”And, ultimately, it made me appreciate those little pieces of metal I so often take for granted.