The hole puncher’s history is the subject of a November 14, 2017 Google Doodle that celebrates the 131st anniversary of the “artifact of German engineering.” The hole punch is one of the most easily recognized office supplies in the world, and it’s one of the most enduring inventions.
“It’s a familiar scene with a familiar tool: the gentle rat-tat-tat on the table as you square up a dangerously thick stack of papers, still warm from the printer,” Google notes in the Google Doodle explanation. “The quiet anticipation and heady uncertainty as you ask yourself the ultimate question: can it cut through all this? The satisfying, dull ‘click!’ of the blade as it punches through the sheets. The series of crisp, identical holes it produces, creating a calming sense of unity among an otherwise unbound pile of loose leaf. And finally, the delightful surprise of the colorful confetti byproduct – an accidental collection of colorful, circular leftovers.”
Many Google Doodles have a theme and so it is with the hole puncher, sometimes called the hole punch or paper punch. Google notes that, “as modern workplaces trek further into the digital frontier, this centuries-old tool remains largely, wonderfully, the same.” What, then, is the history of the hole punch? Who made it?
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A German Inventor Is Often Credited With Inventing the Hole Puncher, Which Dates to the 1880s
Google says in its Google Doodle that the hole puncher is a German invention. According to Bizfluent, credit for the invention is often attributed to a German inventor named Friedrich Soennecken. He “created a type of office tool capable of punching small holes in paper. He applied for a patent in Germany and was awarded one on Nov. 14, 1886. He called the machine Papierlocher fur Sammelmappen and the device was simply called a hole punch,” the site reports. “His invention led to designers in other countries, such as the United States, working on creating a better version.”
Who was Friedrich Soennecken? According to LVR, a German-language publication, Soennecken rose from the life of a “destitute apprentice” to become a “pioneer of the German stationary industry.” He was the sixth of 12 children born to a German blacksmith, the site reports, and was raised in Iserlohn. By 1875, with a talent for calligraphy, he became self-employed, eventually building a factory in Poppelsdorf, where he made the hole punch. He died in 1919 after becoming a wealthy industrialist, the site reports. Soennecken’s inventions contributed much to the world of writing and printing; he is also credited with inventing the foundation for cursive writing and helping develop the modern file folders and ring binders.
2. A Massachusetts Man Received the First U.S. Patent for the Hole Punch
United States inventors quickly developed hole punchers of their own. In the United States, the first hole punch patent went to a Massachusetts man named Benjamin Smith. Indeed, some sites say that Benjamin Smith beat Soennecken to the hole puncher concept by a year. However, Smith’s invention had a different name: He called it the conductor’s punch. “In 1885, Benjamin Smith of Massachusetts invented an improved hole punch with spring-loaded receptacle to collect the clippings U.S. patent number 313027). Benjamin Smith called it the conductor’s punch,” reports Thoughtco.com.
You can see Smith’s patent here. It reads, in part, “Be it known that l, BENJAMIN C. SMITH, of Salem, in the county ot’ Essex and State of Massachusetts ,have invented certain Improvements in Conductors Punches…This invention has for its object to prevent passengers on railroad-trains and other public conveyances from fraudulently reinserting in their passage-tickets the cuttings removed therefrom by the conductors punch, the tickets being thus made to appear as it’ they had not been punched.”
The patent continues, “The invention consists in a conductors punch provided with a receptacle which receives the cuttings removed by the punch, and retains them until the conductor discharges them, a spring closed end or side being provided whereby the receptacle may he emptied, as I will now proceed to describe.”
3. Inventors Continued to Improve the Office Tool
Another U.S. inventor is also credited with improving on the German-derived device. “In 1893, Charles Brooks patented a paper punch called a ticket punch. It had a built-in receptacle on one of the jars to collect the round pieces of waste paper and prevent littering,” reports Thoughtco.com. According to Black History in America, Charles Brooks is more famously known for inventing the street sweeper.
“Charles Brooks designed the street sweeper and patented it on March 17, 1896. Prior to his invention, streets were cleaned manually by workers picking up trash by hand or sweeping it with brooms. Brooks’ invention was made of a truck with a series of broom-like brushes attached which pushed trashed and debris off onto the side of the road,” the site reports.
Of the hole puncher, Black History in America reports of Brooks: “Continuing to come up with innovative designs, Charles Brooks also patented an early paper punch, also called a ticket punch. It was a ticket punch that had a built-in receptacle on one of the jars to collect the round pieces of waste paper and prevent littering. Charles Brooks was the third person to design a hole punch, his design looked similar to the hand held metal whole punchers of today; the ones which make single holes and look like an oversized nail clipper with a wide handle grip.”
4. The Hole Puncher Was Refined Further in the 20th & 21st Centuries
Although it’s a simple device, the hole puncher has continued to be refined into the modern era, with new designs making it easier to carry. “Throughout the 20th century the traditional hole punch retained much of the same look of the early models including the metal construction. After some work, hole punches took on the look of pliers and were easier to carry. Toward the end of the century there were even a few plastic versions released, though with the cutter itself still made of metal,” Bizfluent reported.
However, as the Sun notes, “The hole puncher’s design has not changed much in the 131 years since its invention. It uses a lever and spring system to allow the user to line up and punch holes with cylindrical blades through stacked sheets of paper with ease. The longer the lever, the more sheets of paper can be punched through with the same minimal force. Later adaptations would incorporate a reservoir in the base to help collect the circular confetti left behind by the process.”
5. The Number of Holes the Puncher Makes Varies Throughout the World
Although some of the earliest inventors were ticket punchers, people have continued to improve on the hole puncher. However, it’s only changed slightly after all of this time. “Other paper punches were created throughout the world. Interestingly, these devices are not commonly three-hole punches, but instead two or four. These international paper punches were developed to accommodate the structural differences in paper holders between the US and the rest of the world,” reports Softschools.com.
Over time, the site reports, “advancements in the traditional hole punch remained small, as the original designs were fairly efficient and easy to create. The most notable advancement made within the field was the transition from metal paper punches to plastic ones. This decreased the cost as it lowered the metal working necessary to create each punch. Other, more unusual developments have been made to allow for differently shaped punches compared to the traditional circle. These include shapes like a square, star or heart.” The hole puncher today is one of the most commonly recognized and used office supplies.