While sitting around the bar one evening, in a moment of jest, we offered up the subject of “duct tape” and what unusual uses we had found for this miraculous quick fix. Remember the famous Apollo 13 mission? The astronauts fashioned duct tape and surplus materials into air filtration canisters in the lunar module to keep all 3 astronauts alive for the entire trip home. Every Apollo mission from 11 to 17 carried duct tape with them to the Moon. On the Apollo 17 mission Astronaut Cerman’s hammer in his suit’s pocket had caught the edge of the back right tire’s fender extension and it popped off. Without the fender extension protecting them from the Moon dust, driving the LRV became a serious hazard. Much more abrasive than sand found on earth since the grains are not worn down by wind and water, this lunar dust spread all over instruments and suits and into every nook and cranny. This could heat the instruments to high temperatures potentially causing them to fail, not to mention damage to Astronauts and their suits. Cerman took duct tape and taped the extension together but due to the heavy sand the tape fell off. The astronauts were challenged with creating a replacement fender with only the materials they had on the Moon. Their solution was to attach four of the 28 lunar maps with “gray tape,” carried on board. The maps could be configured in a way that would resemble the fender extension and affixed to the fender with two clamps from the optical alignment telescope. The mission continued as planned. Duct tape, again, saved the day.
But who invented duct tape? The iconic tape was invented by a mom from Illinois named Vesta Stoudt. She wanted to save soldiers’ lives in World War II. In 1943, Stoudt, who had 2 sons serving in the US Navy, was working at the Green River Ordnance Plant. “She noticed that the boxes of ammunition she was packing and inspecting had a flaw,” states Margaret Gurowitz, Johnson & Johnson’s Chief Historian. “They were sealed with paper tape, with a tab to open them. Workers then dipped the entire box in wax to make it waterproof. But the paper tape was very thin, and the tabs often tore off, leaving soldiers frantically trying to open the box while under fire.” Stoudt had one of those “aha” moments and thought: why not make a waterproof cloth tape to seal the boxes. Although she suggested it to her supervisors, she could not gain any support. Like any desperate mother, she wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt stating the problem and her solution, including hand drawn diagrams. The President was so impressed he passed her letter on to the War Production Board. The Board asked the Industrial Tape Corporation (later became Permacel – then a Johnson & Johnson operating company) to produce the product. And the rest goes down in duct tape history!
Now back to The Brandy Bar’s conversations on duct tape, one story that we remember was our friend L recounting that she had left her incontinent father in the charge of her 2 sons, ages 10 and 12, while she made a quick visit to the store. Upon her return she found her father swaddled from waist to knees in rolls of toilet tissue. Securing the entire bandaging was an armor of carefully laced duct tape, crisscrossing and practically covering all toilet tissue. When she asked them why, they pointed out that they wanted to keep grandpa dry, so they made their own solution and it seemed to be working just fine!
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