Vesta Stoudt folded the letter from her son to fit in her purse as she readied for work. She would have an idea that day that would save thousands of lives.
Most women in her neighborhood worked at the Green River Ordnance plant in Dixon, IL. The letter would comfort her during breaks and lunch as she and her friends shared stories of husbands, brothers, and sons serving thousands of miles away during World War Two. Her two sons served in the Navy. She served in her job inspecting and wrapping cartridges used to fire rifle grenades and pack the ammunition in small boxes. Each ammo box was taped to protect the shells against moisture. The paper tape was designed for a soldier to jerk open the box quickly.
The paper tab on the tape was weak and would fail leaving soldiers un-protected while under fire from the enemy. The paper tab tore away from the tape which was supposed to come off with it forcing a soldier to waste time digging to open a box of cartridges. Seconds are precious when an enemy is luring.
Vesta used what Earl Nightingale calls ‘Adaptive Thinking’ to come up with a better idea. We’ll have more on adaptive thinking in another article on Earl’s Seven Thought Triggers.
Her big idea was simple enough. What if the tab were made of strong cloth?
Here’s where adaptive thinking comes in. In 1927, Johnson and Johnson made medical tape from cloth.
Rather than paper tape, Stoudt suggested to her supervisors that the plant use a strong, waterproof, cloth-backed tape. When they told her to mind her own business, she wrote to President Franklin Roosevelt, “I have two sons out there somewhere, one in the Pacific, the other one with the Atlantic fleet. You have sons in the service also. We can’t let them down by giving them a box of cartridges that takes a minute or two to open, enabling the enemy to take lives that might be saved had the box been taped with strong tape that can be opened in a split second. Please, Mr. President, do something about this at once; not tomorrow or soon, but now. We packed nearly 10,000 today on my shift and all wrong.”
She included a diagram of her idea.
On March 26, 1943, Howard Coonley, director of the board’s conservation division, mailed a letter to Stoudt, who lived at 1401 E. Fourth St. in Sterling.
“The Ordnance Department has not only pressed this idea,” Coonley wrote, “but has now informed us that the change you have recommended has been approved with the comment that the idea is of exceptional merit.”
The War Production Board forwarded Stoudt’s letter to Johnson & Johnson, which developed a thin, cotton tape that is believed to have resembled Stoudt’s idea
Their new unnamed product was made of thin cotton tape coated in waterproof plastic with a layer of rubber-based gray adhesive. It was easy to apply and remove, and was soon adapted to repair military equipment quickly, including vehicles and weapons. Various theories have circulated about the name. Some say it’s the waterproof characteristics of a duck. Others have stated the 1942 amphibious military vehicle DUKW which was pronounced “duck.”
After the war, duck tape was used in construction to wrap air ducts. That led to the name “duct tape” in the 1950s.
In summary, ideas come to us all the time. Sometimes a problem like the life threatening one that kept Mrs. Stoudt awake at night. Vesta Stoudt, the mom of two sons in the Navy had the idea to use cloth tape to seal boxes of ammo, so it could be opened in mere seconds while keeping the ammo dry, saving lives of soldiers worldwide. When her bosses rejected her idea, she went straight to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. A few weeks later, she received a response that the Navy was going to “fast track” her idea. Duct tape was born. And who could imagine our lives without it now?