Is it duct or duck and was it called duck tape first?

Posted By on September 4, 2013

Who likes to admit that they may have been wrong, or at least partially wrong? Not me that is for sure, but in the case of duct tape, I always thought “Duct Tape” the correct name and that it was around before Duck tape (branded). ducttapeUnfortunately it looks like I might have to re-think this in the future or at least keep from rolling my eyes when someone writes or says “duck tape”  (Wikipedia still “leads” with Duct tape).

According to a bit of reading, the sticky waterproof tape was created by the Permacel division of Johnson and Johnson back in World War II when the military needed a way to keep moisture out of ammunition cases. They developed an easy to tear mesh backed tape with a strong rubber based adhesive — colored drab-green of course (not post-war grey) — specifically for that purpose. They called it “duck tape” because it was waterproof. Just like today, the tape found many alternative uses, so it should come as no surprise to know it was used to patch and repair tents, jeeps and even aircraft … that was well before it was used to patch our dinghy or win a “Stuck at Prom” scholarship. After the war the color changed to the common grey and booming housing industry used it for heating “ducts” – hence “Duct tape.”

The durable cloth-backed tape first appeared during World War II, when Johnson & Johnson developed an olive drab version as a handy way for American soldiers to waterproof their ammo cans. According to the company, soldiers dubbed the product “duck tape” because it forced moisture to flee “like water off a duck’s back.”

Troops realized that the tape was good for more than just keeping their powder dry, and after the war, it caught on as an easy and effective way to seal, among other things, heating ducts. Johnson & Johnson even began offering a silver version of the tape specifically for this purpose, giving rise to “duct tape.”

So which is correct? “Duck tape” has the chronological upper hand, but “duct tape” is a more accurate description of the product’s historical use. To make things even more complicated, though, it’s no longer used to seal ducts! You could always just hedge your bets the way the leading manufacturer does when it bills itself as “Duck brand duct tape.”




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  1. lacking in consistency, constancy, or visible order, disconnected; fitful: desultory conversation.
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