Before staples, to attach things you could use a needle and thread, glue, clamps, or skewers. The earliest progenitor of the staple was a pendent seal, which was invented by medieval academics and used wax and a ribbon or string threaded through slits in the leaves of paper.
The first actual stapler was produced in France in the 1700s for King Louis XV and was made from gold and encrusted with precious stones. An American “paper fastener” was patented in 1866, but it only held one staple at a time. It also required a great deal of force to operate and the ends of each staple had to be folded down manually. A stapler that didn’t require hand fastening was patented in 1879, but it also took only one staple at a time. The next innovation came in 1895 with the introduction of strips of staples that were wired together. The modern stapler wasn’t really invented until Swingline patented its Speed Stapler No. 3 in 1937, however. It required much less effort than earlier models, which often had to be hammered rather than simply pressed down upon, and it could also be refilled simply by opening the top and dropping staples in, as opposed to other staplers that basically had to be taken apart to be refilled.
Amy M Lavine is the owner of Sketch Art Supplies and the proud owner of a vintage Swingline stapler. You can contact Amy M Lavine at firstname.lastname@example.org with any and all questions about staplers and other accounts of esoteric art supply history.