Custom Packaging Tape: The Story of Duct Tape

You may have heard me talk about how scotch tape came about to being invented, and today I’m going to talk a little bit about duct tape. This is because I am more or less obsessed with custom packaging tape… Okay, I knew I couldn’t fool you; it’s because it’s my job. And I love it! Because where else can you research the history of duct tape and write about it and get paid for it, too?

Growing up, I thought that duct tape was actually pronounced ‘duck’ tape, and then I was really embarrassed when I got older and learned that it is actually ‘duct’ tape. Well, today I am here to tell you that calling it ‘duck’ is also correct! Also, the really weird thing is that standard duct tape is no good for use on actual ducts. This makes no sense, I know, but what are you gonna do?

Okay, so, the custom packaging tape that we refer to as duct tape was invented during World War II, and was made by putting a rubber adhesive on a duck cloth backing. The rubber adhesive is what made it water resistant, but what is duck cloth? It turns out that it doesn’t have anything to do with ducks, and the word comes from a Dutch word that sounds the same but refers to cloth. And so duck cloth is a type of cloth signified by how tightly woven it is, which makes it incredibly durable. Apparently it had been in use for many years by the time the second World War rolled around, used to make shoes stronger and even to wrap cables to protect them from corrosion.

Lo and behold, the mother of two Navy sailors, who also worked in an ordinance factory, came up with the idea for duct tape. This reminds me of that Canadian show about girls working in an ordinance factory, which I thought was pretty awesome but apparently the rest of the world did not because it was cancelled after two seasons. This mother was concerned that the munitions they were producing would be ruined by the time they got to the front lines, since the munitions boxes didn’t seal all that well. She proposed the idea, and her idea was patented into duck tape. I’ve yet to find out why it is called duct tape, except that it was commonly confused with a brand of custom packaging tape that was actually used on ducts.