The popularity of paper shredders has grown in recent years due to the rise in identity theft, as reports show that these crimes are most often committed by people who use stolen bank statements and other personal documents to gain access to other people's bank accounts, credit cards, etc.
But the paper shredder itself has been around for almost a century.
The first patent for a paper shredder was issued to A.A. Low in 1908. Low was a prolific inventor, and the only person to receive more patents during his lifetime than Low was Thomas Edison. Low's "waste paper receptacle" consisted of a paper feeder and blades on rollers. The device could be powered by a hand crank or an electric motor. But Low was apparently too busy inventing things to market his paper shredder.
In 1936, Adolf Ehinger, a German, patented his own paper shredder
design, which was inspired by the common pasta maker, a hand-cranked device for cutting sheets of dough into strips. Ehinger built a company, EBA Maschinenfabrik, to market his invention. By 1956 he had customers in several countries. Most of his customers were governments and financial institutions, which used the shredders to destroy their old or unwanted classified documents to prevent the documents from falling into the wrong hands.
The first paper shredders were "strip cut" paper shredders, which cut narrow strips down the length of the paper, just like pasta. It wasn't until 1959 that Ehinger's company introduced the first Cross Cut Paper Shredder
, which cuts the paper both horizontally and vertically, creating small confetti-type particles. And it apparently wasn't until 1979 that the American government realized the value of the cross-cut shredder.
During the Iranian Revolution of 1979, personnel in the American Embassy in Tehran apparently used a strip cut shredder to destroy some top-secret documents. But after Iranian militants took over the embassy, the militants used skilled carpet weavers to put the pieces back together. Since then, the Department of Defense has set increasingly strict standards for shredders that are sold to the U.S. government.
The event that probably first brought the paper shredder
to the public's attention was the Watergate scandal of 1972, when news reports revealed that one of the people involved in the break-in of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters had used a paper shredder to destroy incriminating evidence. In recent years, several other news items have revealed the alleged use of paper shredders to destroy evidence or cover up crimes. The most recent incident was in July of 2005, when news reports alleged that United Nations President Kofi Annan's cabinet chief had shredded large quantities of documents related to the corruption in the UN's Oil-for-Food program in Iraq.