A Brief History of Paper Shredders

Most offices and even many private homes today contain a paper shredder, capable of completely destroying paper documents, disks and plastic cards to protect our privacy and confidential information. But who first came up with the idea of shredding documents? Do you ever wonder how the shredders we use today came to be?

Paper Shredding in Ancient Times

As long as people have recorded information on paper, there has been a need to destroy documents on paper. Since the invention of papyrus in ancient Egypt thousands of years ago, documents containing errors, sensitive or inaccurate material needed to be destroyed. Back then, of course, the papyrus was torn up manually. The paper shredding industry has come a long way since then.

During times of war, paper documents and books were destroyed in huge numbers. While in many cases this was to prevent secret information from falling into the wrong hands, sometimes the goal was to destroy information deemed inappropriate or sacrilegious by the people in power. Often this destruction was achieved by burning the papers or books in question.

The Dawn of Modern Paper Shredding

The beginnings of the first paper shredder are credited to inventor Abbot Augustus Low of New York, who filed a patent for an improved waste paper receptacle in 1909. Low's invention was intended for use in banks and counting houses; however, it was never manufactured.

The first known early mechanical paper shredder actuallycreated was in Germany in 1935. After being questioned about anti-Nazi literature in this trash, Adolf Ehinger was inspired by a hand-cranked pasta maker to create a machine to shred sensitive material that could get him into trouble. He created a hand-cranked shredder that sat in a wooden frame and was large enough to handle a sheet of paper. He later added a motor to power the device, and sold shredders throughout the 1940s to a variety of government entities and embassies.

The Cold War increased the popularity of Ehinger's device through the 1950's, and in 1959 his company created the first cross cut shredder that cut paper not only into strips, but cut it into tiny bits for an increased level of security.His company (EBA Maschinenfabrik) continues to produce shredders to this day, although now it is under the name of Krug & Priester, who purchased the company in 1998.

Major Moments in Paper Shredding History

Since their invention, shredders have played a role in many great historical moments. The Nixon re-election committee famously used a paper shredder during the notorious Watergate scandal. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North used a paper shredder to shred important documents during the Iran-Contra scandal, and cross cut shredders increased dramatically in popularity after the American embassy in Tehran was overrun by Iranian militants and documents that had been only strip shredded were pieced back together.

Before the 1980s, shredders were used almost exclusively by government and military organizations. As privacy concerns, the threat of identity theft and laws prohibiting burning garbage in many areas have increased, paper shredders have been adopted across the private sector - first by businesses, and now, increasingly, by private citizens. And as document transmission has shifted from papers to digital files, shredders have improved their capacities to handle not only paper, but also floppy disks, DVDs, CDs and plastic identity and credit cards.

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