by Aylza Donald, Graduate Diploma in Archaeology and Heritage Management student
This is the last of four blog posts I have written as part of my Directed Study project on cable ties. In this post I’m summarising my project and identifying some things I wish I had been able to investigate further.
This is my contextualisation of cable tie invention, development and spread, there are other ways to do it, but this one is mine.
When I came to write this last blog post I kept thinking about the US Marine Corps Creed which begins ‘This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine’. I’ve turned the saying around a bit so it encapsulates the process of my research. There ARE other ways of approaching and investigating cable ties, but this one is mine. The saying might have got into my head because I have spent so much time investigating cable ties in relation to military conflict, but I suspect it also has to do with my approach to events and processes, as well as my reading across disciplines, including military and technical histories, Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) and material culture studies, anthropology, archaeology and the work of French Theorist Paul Virilio, who ‘writes of the military conception of history’ (Armitage 2000:np). I chose to focus on military contexts and the contexts of ‘Globalisation’, ‘Supermodernity or ‘Hypermodernity’ and ‘Hyperconsumerism’. This led me down some very interesting avenues of research, so much so that it has been hard to choose what to include in the project paper and what to leave out.
I picked three innovations which influenced the invention of cable ties and were shaped by military priorities during World War Two. The development of the aviation gas turbine or ‘jet’ engine directly contributed to what cable tie inventor Maurus C. Logan saw on his visit to a Boeing plant in 1956, which is when he identified the need for his invention. The capacity to manufacture cable ties was directly related to the development and refinement of nylon material and injection moulding technology during the war.
The ‘Cold War’, and Korean and Vietnam Wars heralded a worldwide jet aircraft design and building phase. Increasing numbers of both military and civilian jet engine aircraft were manufactured because their
low weight-to-power ratio of gas turbines and their increasingly powerful thrust made them the unrivaled prime-mover choice for all post-World War II fighters and bombers and for commercial … aviation.
It is not possible to guess which aircraft Logan saw being built when he visited the Boeing assembly plant in 1956 but it is fairly likely it was a jet engine aircraft. Logan timed his invention brilliantly. More and more jet aircraft were being built, using technology which meant more and more cabling was required in each aircraft. The significance of this timing should not be underestimated. Had he come up with the idea in the 1930s it may not have been successful. Without WW2 the development of aviation jet engines would still have occurred, but would have taken longer.
The Cold War went hand in hand with the ‘Space Race’. The USA were beaten to the jump to get the first orbiting satellite into space when the Soviets launched the ‘Sputnik’ in 1957 (Cowan 1997:266). The USA poured money into research and development to try to catch up and surpass the Soviet space program. So not only were more aircraft with more cables built, but more missiles, satellites and spacecraft were designed and manufactured, along with more launch pads and satellite tracking stations, all of which used extensive and complex cabling. So Logan’s invention ‘caught the wave’ of both intensive jet aircraft manufacture and aerospace applications. This close association with military and aerospace applications also contributed to cable ties being subject to particular standards and military specifications.
The advent of ‘globalisation’, ‘supermodernity or ‘hypermodernity’ and ‘hyperconsumerism’ drove changes in cable tie manufacture, distribution and consumption. Essentially, more and more cable ties are being produced and consumed and in increasing varieties. At the same time changes in the automotive, electrical, personal computing and home theatre arenas have resulted in an ever-increasing number of ‘things’ connected with cables becoming part of the domestic sphere. There are ‘cable management’ requirements in homes and offices, as well as myriads of other uses. This proliferation is a hallmark of contemporary material culture and is related to ‘the incredibly rapid rate of technological change, which produces a situation where there is a great deal of variation in the uptake of different forms of technology’ (Harrison and Schofield 2010: 178).
My cable tie database research demonstrated the vast extent of cable tie manufacture and consumption. Reviewing company websites selected on particular criteria led to a series of ‘unknown unknowns’. I had fairly strict criteria for companies to be included in my research but I found the numbers and types of cable ties they stocked could vary from fairly basic and manageable to over a thousand items per company. I restricted the information I included, because to include details of all the kinds of cable ties would take a lifetime, possibly longer.
There are lots of unanswered questions that I wish I had time to fit into this project. I wonder how aircraft wiring and cabling was managed in World War Two, and what cable management techniques the Soviet Union used during the Cold War and Space Race. I’m still curious about the crossover from specialised aerospace to everyday life. Although it pretty much coincides with globalisation, the move into the domestic sphere must have started gradually and it would be worth investigating the minutia of that process. I started this project because I wanted to know more about cable ties. The more I have learned about them, the more I realise I don’t know. I submitted a cable ties poster to the WAC8 Conference with my industry partner for this project, Dr Alice Gorman, so I am happy that the end of this project is not the end of my cable tie research.