The History Of The Trapper Keeper: It Was Always Super Cool Even If You Weren’t

Homework. Tests. Cafeteria food. None of those aspects of education elicit wishful longing for school days gone by — more like overwhelming relief that we as adults don’t ever have to revisit junior high. But you mention Trapper Keepers to anyone who went to school in the 1980s and early 1990s and it’s like the sun was always shining and it didn’t matter if Kevin noticed you or not. You had your Trapper Keeper holding all your school work, and it was so cool.

While it might seem like a no-brainer now that the binder-with-folders-inside model is pretty standard at schools everywhere. But back when Mead’s creative brains were trying to figure out what kids needed.

The Trapper Keeper’s awesomeness wasn’t borne out of a sudden fit of inspiration either, says its inventor, E. Bryant Crutchfield. Instead, it took a whole lot of research before it hit the market and bestowed instant coolness on legions of kids.

“[The Trapper Keeper] was no accident,” he tells mental_floss as part of an in-depth look at the Trapper Keeper’s birth in 1978 and subsequent world domination. “It was the most scientific and pragmatically planned product ever in that industry.”

It all started back in 1972 when Crutchfield was the director of New Ventures at Mead (which is now part of Acco Brands). His analysis showed that soon there would be more students in classrooms, and those students face a combination of more classes and smaller lockers. What’s a well-organized student to do?

Crutchfield’s brain-bending brought him to the conclusion that porftolios, or folders, were becoming more popular every year. So why not stick a bunch of them in a notebook and thus, cut down on bulky things to carry to six classes.

After talking to a West Coast sales rep about his idea, the rep suggested he adopt a popular style of folders called the PeeChee (for peachy keen, natch!), which had vertical instead of horizontal pockets. Things wouldn’t fall out then. Bingo.

“[The rep] said, ‘When you close it up, the papers are trapped inside—they can’t fall out. If you’ve got a horizontal pocket portfolio, you turn it upside down, and zap! [The papers] fall out,’ ” recalls Crutchfield.

It was off to the races from there: Crutchfield designed vertical folders that had multiplication tables, rulers and other useful info on them, with a three-ring binder that held all the folders and was closed up with a flap.

The all-important name was next. He and his research and development manager were discussing the folders and the device at lunch, when his colleague suggested, “Let’s call the portfolio The Trapper.” Because it traps your stuff, see?

What to call the notebook?

“The Trapper Keeper,” his friend replied.

When Mead tested the product at schools, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Including Crutchfield’s favorite response from a 14-year-old named Fred: He had seen the commercial for it and bought the Trapper Keeper rather than another binder to “keep all my shit, like papers and notes.”

And that was that (in short — check the source link below for the entire, wonderful story). For years after their release, Mead sold $100 million worth of folders and Trapper Keepers per year. To date, some 75 million Trapper Keepers have flown off store shelves.

Let’s not forget the most important part: You could be just like all the other kids and thus, cool. Unless your parents brought home a rip-off version that you ended up hiding under your bed instead of using, lest you face eternal teasing.

The History of the Trapper Keeper [Mental Floss]