What holds the military together?
Is it patriotism and the selfless desire to serve your country? Maybe.
But in the literal sense, it could be simply a roll of black tape.
In the US and to most civilians it is known as duct tape.
To anyone in the British military, it is ‘Black Nasty’.
A permanent resident in many soldiers' kits, the ubiquitous tape is a go-to solution to most things, from ‘fixing’ weapons to securing end straps on webbing. Most can’t imagine military service without it.
Invented By A Worried Mother
The words “duck tape” first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1899, referring to the cotton duck cloth that the tape was originally made from. Essentially a strong and durable cotton fabric, with the threads making a crisscross pattern that made it water-resistant - like a duck’s back.
However, it was not until the Second World War that the modern ‘miracle’ fix-all tape was invented, and we have a concerned mother and ordinance factory worker Vesta Stoudt to thank for it.
During the Second World War, Vesta had two sons serving in the US Navy.
She worried that, during the time it took them to open their ammunition boxes, they would be killed.
Covered in wax to make them waterproof, the boxes were clumsily sealed by a paper tab that often tore off.
During moments of ‘kill or be killed’, in a firefight for instance, fumbling with packaging can quickly turn deadly when there is not a second to spare to get to the ammo.
In 1943, Vesta came up with an idea to save time and lives. She wrote to President Roosevelt:
"I suggested we use a strong cloth tape to close seams and make tab of same … I have two sons out there somewhere, one in the Pacific Island the other one with the Atlantic Fleet. You have sons in the service also.
"We can’t let them down by giving them a box of cartridges that takes a minute or more to open, the enemy taking their lives, that could have been saved."
The President approved Mrs Stoudt’s idea and forwarded it on to the War Production Board. From there it was pharmaceutical and packaging giant Johnson & Johnson that took over the production of what became a revolutionary product that is still used by the militaries all over the world, from patching boots to quick fixes on Apache helicopters.
How Duck Turned To Duct
After the Second World War, the civilian world caught on to the potential of “duck tape”. Durable and easily ripped by hand, it went from fixing weapons and armoured vehicles to quickly being adopted by the housing industry. Mass production began in the 1950s. The most common use of it was to wrap air ducts – hence the nickname “duct tape”.
The term “duct tape” has been in the dictionary since 1965.
In 1960, an air-conditioning company, Albert Arno, Inc. In Missouri, America, trademarked the name "Ductape" for their "flame-resistant" tape, apparently capable of withstanding temperatures of 204 °C.
According to modern standards, using duct tape on actual ductwork is now considered a violation of Health and Safety.
What Is It Called In The Armed Forces?
The most common term used is Black Nasty.
As pointed out on The Army Rumour Service web forum, by a user called Speedy, it gets this name simply because 'it is a) black and b) nasty'.
Also referred to as Bodge Tape and less commonly as Harry Black or Jungle Tape.
Our allies across the pond call it "gun-tape", "riggers tape", "hurricane tape" and “speed tape.”
It is often referred to as "100mph tape" because it is said to be able to withstand winds of 100mph.
These terms were coined during the Vietnam War when it was used to balance or repair helicopter blades.
On Civvy Street, and in particularly in the film industry where is it commonly used to stick cables to the floor for health and safety, the black tape is often called gaffer or gaffa.
This may be worth noting for any personnel planning to transition into civilian life any time soon.
From Rotor Blades To Broken Shades …
There seems to be little that cannot be fixed with Black Nasty.
Smashed Humvee window? Tape it!
Annoying blister forming? Tape it!
Radio antenna, ripped rucksack, any kind of hole? Tape it!
The only thing that duct tape cannot fix is a broken heart. Although, it has been used as an oxymoronic sounding last resort first aid tool on flesh wounds and even broken bones if desperate in emergency situations.
It has been known to sometimes slow down heavy bleeding to allow first-aiders in the field enough time to get a patient to a medical facility - applying a firm, but not constrictive, pressure on a wound with tape can help save a life.
Not All Tape Is Equal
Contrary to popular belief, duct tape is not actually a trademark brand name that has become synonymous with the product like Hoover or Kleenex.
Although “Ductape” spelt together is. In the US, duct tape is made primarily by eight different manufacturers.
The largest distributor is a company called “Duck Brand.”
They unsurprisingly named their product Duck tape. Whereas Gorilla, the manufacturer that makes super glue, claim to have bettered their formula by making the tape double as thick and adding more adhesive.
No matter whether you are buying Duck or Gorilla you still end up with duct tape. Scotch on the other hand is a brand name. However, that tape is more often found in the office rather than on the battlefield.
Freezing weather-resistant and easy to tear by hand, Nashua Tape is a favourite of US troops. Due to its olive green colour, it is perfect for camouflage purposes. Legend has it that if one irons it over fabric, it forms a permanent impenetrable seal.
The tape often used by the British military, as well as police, is PLC black tape. According to the Cadet Direct website where it is sold, it can be used for almost anything - “waterproof and security sealing, binding, reinforcing, securing and packing.” They know the drill.
Duct In Space
If it’s good enough for the Army, it’s good enough for NASA. Every astronaut has taken duct tape to space with them since 1964. Since then, there hasn’t been a time when they have left earth without it, everywhere humanity ventures, duct tape comes too.
The most famous example of duct tape saving the day in space is on the seventh crewed mission in the Apollo space program.
Following an accident on Apollo 13, CO2 converters were damaged, creating a potentially deadly situation. There were enough oxygen canisters, but the attachment piece was broken, and a seal could not be maintained. The crew managed to fix it using a spacesuit, plastic bags and cardboard. It was of course held all together by duct tape.
NASA engineer Ed Smylie designed the solution back on earth, testing it on a simulator before notifying the crew of how to fix it. He later said: “One thing a Southern boy will never say is, ‘I don’t think duct tape will fix it.'”
It seems no matter where you are in the universe, duct tape has become synonymous with a 'universal quick fix'.
Personal Con ...duct
What have you used it for? We would love to hear your stories on what you managed to fix with Black Nasty. Let us know on [email protected]. Bonus points for whacky photos.