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The History of Shredders

      …From the pasta maker to Enron

It is somewhat surprising that paper shredding took as long as it did to become widespread. There’s little doubt that destroying confidential documents has long been considered high priority, at least for governments and spies. But, until the celebrated Watergate incident of 1972 the public knew little of paper shredders.

The Inventor

As near as we can piece together (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun), the inventor of the paper shredder was A. A. Low. During his lifetime, he was second only to Thomas Edison in the number of patents issued. His “Waste Paper Receptacle” was issued a patent in 1908. The design included a feeder and blades on rollers that shredded the paper with either a hand crank or an electric motor. Clearly, Low was ahead of his time.

Unfortunately, follow through on his inventions was not a strong point and he never marketed the device nor received credit for it. That credit goes to Adolf Ehinger, a simple, hard-working German who patented his invention in 1936. The inspiration came from the common kitchen pasta maker, the hand-cranked device for turning sheets of dough into strips. He also spent some of his spare time writing anti-Nazi material (maybe his real source of inspiration was the desire to destroy evidence that the Gestapo would have looked on most unfavorably. Sheer speculation on my part).

Ehinger marketed his invention and found buyers during the fear and paranoia of the 1940’s wartime. He built a company around his invention, EBA Maschinenfabrik, and by 1956 had a number of customers in numerous countries, primarily governments and financial institutions. The first cross-cut shredder (cutting the paper both horizontally and vertically) appears to have been introduced by EBA in 1959. Long strips of vertically cut paper by strip-cut machines are easy enough to reassemble and this helped solve that problem (see shred size).

Ehinger’s business prospered and was eventually turned over to his son who ran the company until it was sold to a competitor, Krug & Priester, in 1998. The inventor lived to age 86 and passed on in 1984, long enough to see the popularity of shredders established (due in no small part to the Watergate scandal – G. Gordon Liddy used a Shredmaster 400 to dispose of evidence pertaining to the 1972 break-in at National Democractic Party headquarters.)

Shredding in the News

In 1979 when the American Embassy in Tehran was seized by Iranian militants some top-secret documents that were in the process of being shredded were pieced back together with the assistance of Iranian women skilled at weaving Persian carpets. Apparently the shredder being used was a low-tech, vertical-only cutter. The government learned a lesson from that security leak and upgraded shredding standards. Thus the birth of high security shredders that reduce documents to DOD standards (which have been updated to even more stringent requirements, due in no small part to the 9/11 terrorist attacks).

Oliver North was another famous shredder. While employed by the National Security Council he and his secretary, Fawn Hall, shredded documents relating to the Iran-Contra scandal. The destruction of that evidence didn’t ruin North (he’s enjoyed a popular radio career), but it did seem to further taint the image of shredders. The recent Enron accounting scandal hasn’t done much to improve that image, but it’s a bum rap. Shredders today are well-made, efficient and imminently practical. Their primary purpose is not to cover up for the guilty, but rather to protect the innocent. Legislation like the
HIPAA and GLBA were passed to guard against private health and financial information of common citizens falling into the wrong hands.

Shredding is Good

Shredding is good for the environment (shredded paper is often used in recycling or packaging material), protects your “garbage” from becoming the identity thief’s “treasure” and holds accountable financial, health and governmental agencies from improper disposal of sensitive material. Shredding is now big business and machines are marketed for every part of the consumer spectrum, from home user to the captains of industry.

You will find the best prices, selection and service on paper shredders at Factory Express, Inc.

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