Johan Vaaler – The Original Mr Clippy

Day 312 of Colourisation Project – March 15

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Remember Mr. Clippy, the animated paperclip office assistant that first appeared in Microsoft Office 97?  How quickly we forget. The much maligned little pest was around till Office 2003. He had an annoying habit of popping up out of the Ethernet, tapping the inside of your monitor and stating the obvious as though we weren’t cognisant of the fact,  “It looks like you’re writing a letter.”

Paperclips…who uses them these days? Less than fifteen years ago, they were indispensable items in offices the world over. Such an ingenious design, have you ever wondered who invented the paperclip?

Johan Vaaler

Photographer Unknown: Yearbook of Norwegian Students 1887 – Johan Vaaler –  Coloured by Loredana Crupi

Well it was not today’s colourisation subject, Johan Vaaler, though he is frequently and erroneously identified with the invention of the common paperclip.

Born this day, March 15, 1866, Vaaler was a Norwegian inventor who did indeed invent a paperclip but not quite the one that we know today. He was however the first person to patent a paperclip design. Firstly in Germany in 1899, since Norway had no patent laws at that time and then in America in 1901. Vaaler’s design was never actually manufactured or sold and his patents eventually expired and he died nine years later in 1910.

As early as the 1870s a British company called the Gem Manufacturing Company, first designed the standard double oval shaped paperclip, that we know today. It came to be known as the ‘Gem paperclip’. (This is also explains why the Swedish word for paperclip is ‘gem’.) Although the machine for making Gem paper clips was patented in 1899, the paperclip itself was never patented, which is why we don’t know who exactly it was that came up with design of the clever little paperclip.


According to a 1958 survey conducted by the House Journal of Lloyds Bank, out of every 100,000 paperclips made in the United States, 19,143 were used as poker chips, 17,200 held clothing together, 15,556 were dropped and lost, 14,163 were absent-mindedly destroyed during telephone calls, 8,504 cleaned pipes and nails, while 5,434 served as stand-in toothpicks. Only 20,000 of the original batch of paper clips were actually used to clip papers together.

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