The Ultimate 80s Status Symbol: The Trapper Keeper

©Facebook, Trapper Keeper

Okay, they actually hit the market in 1978, but Trapper Keepers are totally linked with the 1980s and early 1990s. I’m sure you remember, right? I know I do. I think I got my first one in 7th grade. It wasn’t even close to being the coolest one in school, but I held my own in the Trapper Keeper game.

It seemed like everyone had one, and they were a status symbol of sorts. The “cool kids” had really fancy ones that average dudes like myself hadn’t even seen yet. Where were they finding them?!? For the uninitiated, Trapper Keepers are three-ring binders that had a flap on them that held in all the “trappers,” or folders. The flap was usually VELCRO and not a minute went by in class or the hallway where you didn’t hear that unmistakable sound of people opening theirs.

The Mead Corporation launched Trapper Keepers in 1978, and they were an immediate success. For several years, Mead sold over $100 million worth of the product. To date, about 75 million Trapper Keepers have been bought up by consumers. The product also became a cultural phenomenon and has been referenced on many TV shows including South ParkFamily GuyDawson’s CreekStranger Things, and Full House.

The inventor of the Trapper Keeper, E. Bryant Crutchfield, used market research to create the famous school supply. Crutchfield said, “It was the most scientific and pragmatically planned product ever in that industry.” The research showed that by the late 1970s there would be many more students entering classrooms, and that meant larger class sizes and fewer available lockers. So a product needed to be invented to help kids manage all their folders, notebooks, and papers. Crutchfield said, “I wanted to make a notebook that would hold portfolios, and they could take that to six classes.” And so the Trapper Keeper was born. And the folder pockets were designed to be vertical instead of horizontal so papers wouldn’t fall out. The original snap was metal. VELCRO didn’t come until later.

Crutchfield worked to perfect his design and eventually came up with the Trapper Keeper we knew and loved as school kids. Mead filmed a commercial for their brand new product and used Wichita, Kansas as a test market in August 1978. After the commercial aired, the product sold out completely. Inside each new Trapper Keeper was a feedback card. If kids filled it out and sent it in, Mead would mail them a free notebook. Mead received 1,500 feedback cards. When asked why they purchased a Trapper Keeper, some of the responses included: “I heard it was good. My girlfriend had one.” “So when kids in my class throw it, the papers won’t fly all over.” “Because they keep your papers where they belong. They’re really great—everybody has one.”

Crutchfield and Mead knew they had a winner on their hands, and they released Trapper Keepers nationally in the summer of 1981. Just like in the test market area in Kansas, the product was a huge hit all over the country.

Trapper Keepers remained a hot item for many years, and the cool covers changed over the times to feature unicorns, fast cars, and whatever other things young kids liked. The company is still at it today, with images of Hello Kitty and Star Wars adorning the covers.

What a nice trip down memory lane.

h/t: Mental Floss