More than 40,000 duct tape enthusiasts come to celebrate the “other greatest tool” each year in Avon, Ohio.
Duct tape is like the force. It has a light side, a dark side, and it holds the universe together. — Carl Zwanzig
AN OLD ADAGE CLAIMS THAT THE WORLD’S PROBLEMS CAN BE SOLVED WITH TWO TOOLS: WD-40 TO MAKE THINGS GO AND DUCT TAPE TO MAKE THEM STOP. Everyone’s favorite industrial lubricant has a variety of impressive uses (it was, after all, invented to serve as a slick coating for the outer skin of the SM-65 Atlas, the first intercontinental ballistic missile deployed by the U.S. Air Force), but duct tape reigns supreme for its versatility and the sheer volume of its applications.
Originally created by Johnson and Johnson during World War II to keep moisture out of ammunition crates, the flexible, waterproof adhesive—or “duck tape” as it was first known (grammar sticklers will be surprised to know that either moniker is valid)—soon became helpful in fixing military vehicles and weaponry. That was just the beginning. Today, you’ll find the ubiquitous silver tape on everything from super model cleavage to airplane wings to horse hooves. (Perhaps the only thing duct tape is not good for, surprisingly, is repairing ducts, as a 1998 study determined).
Called “The Other Greatest Tool Ever” in 2006 by Forbes Magazine, people seem fascinated by the tape’s adaptability and how it has come to symbolize the world of do-it-yourself projects. Tim Nyberg and his brother-in-law Jim Berg, a.k.a. The Duct Tape Guys, have sold more than three million books and calendars opining their love for duct tape and its many uses. A quick look at Pinterest shows instructions for duct tape wallets, book covers and flowers, while Etsy sells shoes, furniture and jewelry, all made of or covered by the tape, which is now available in a variety of colors and patterns. While it may not yet have a place in a standard first-aid kit, medical experts occasionally recommend duct tape as an appropriate treatment for certain types of warts and even as a deterrent for frostbite.
The adhesive has grabbed some notable headlines over the years—it was responsible for helping out with not one, but two, NASA missions. It was used aboard 1972’s Apollo 17 to repair the fender of a lunar rover wrecked by moondust and, more famously, it was a literal lifesaver for the three astronauts aboard Apollo 13 when it was used to modify the carbon dioxide filter in the lunar craft that served as their life boat.
Stuck on the Duck
Thirty years after Johnson and Johnson first modified medical tape for military purposes, Jack Kahl, former CEO of Manco Inc., launched Duck Brand duct tape with the help of a new mascot, Manco T. Duck. The yellow duck in the green sash gave even more personality and recognition to the already popular commodity. To encourage further creativity, Duck Brand began an annual “Stick or Treat” contest where entrants decorated pumpkins with duct tape for a US$1,000 prize. “Stuck at Prom,” a $10,000 scholarship opportunity where high school couples compete to create and accessorize their prom wear using duct tape, soon followed. Duck’s headquarters in the Cleveland suburb of Avon, Ohio, soon became known as The Duct Tape Capital of the World.
A Tape Celebration
In 2004, Avon hosted the first annual Avon Heritage Duct Tape Festival over Father’s Day weekend.
“A lot of dads use duct tape,” said Melanie Amato, director of advertising, in an interview for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “Of course, a lot of moms do, too, but the fact that it’s Father’s Day weekend, the focus is on dads.”
It turns out that crafty fans like to party. The festival had modest beginnings, but today more than 40,000 enthusiasts from all around the country come to celebrate the sticky stuff. Featuring crafts, sculpture, fashion and a parade at Veteran’s Memorial Park, spend-thrift do-it-yourselfers are pleased to note that the festival has and will always be a free event (and the first 500 entrants receive a free roll of the namesake each day).
Contributing to the popularity of duct tape is its incredible ability to cross over into other realms. Sports fans have long used duct tape to show team spirit, so 2011’s theme, Real Fans Stick Together, was a logical choice. Visitors used duct tape to create sports memorabilia such as pennants, pompoms and megaphones. This year’s festival was safari-themed. Craft tents offered instructions for designing one-of-a-kind safari gear, while the parade featured an enormous duct tape elephant. Local expert Outback Ray brought some of his exotic animals out for a show. Texas-based artist Chance Foreman, who has received national attention for his duct tape portraits ranging from John Lennon to Mother Theresa, crafted an original work of art on site. Thousands of fashion-conscious fans took advantage of Duck Brand’s new line of animal print tape and showed up wearing outfits made entirely of the stuff.
Though there are festivals that celebrate everything from food items to cartoon characters, it seems unlikely that any other hardware staple would garner as much enthusiasm as duct tape has. Likely this is due to a core fan base of plucky, positive people who value ingenuity, customization, fixing what’s broken and having fun while doing it. One+
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One+ July 2012