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Remembering the man behind the Trapper Keeper

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

E. Bryant Crutchfield, the inventor of the Trapper Keeper, has died. The Trapper Keeper, as you might recall, was the hot school supply to have in the 1980s. I mean, I had to have one.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) That's all you're taking to class?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Everything I need's in my new Trapper Portfolio.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Trapper?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Traps in all my papers.

ERIN MCCARTHY: I'm someone who really likes to be organized. And so I think the Trapper Keeper is the origin of that for me.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Erin McCarthy is editor-in-chief at Mental Floss. She profiled Crutchfield in 2013 and wrote that the Trapper Keeper's style made it stand out.

MCCARTHY: It was something that allowed you to kind of express your personality in a way that a lot of other school supplies didn't. You could pick a Trapper Keeper that had a dog on it or a soccer player on it, or you could go with a designer series. I was definitely into, like, the Lisa Frank.

CHANG: And, of course, who could forget that Velcro closure?

(SOUNDBITE OF VELCRO RIPPING)

CHANG: The Trapper Keeper launched in 1978, and its popularity exploded in the 1980s. But it stayed relevant even into a new millennium when "South Park" aired a Terminator-themed episode about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "SOUTH PARK")

KYLE MCCULLOCH: (As Bill Cosby) And so you see, Ms. Cartman, you cannot buy your son, Eric, another Trapper Keeper - not now, not ever.

ELIZA SCHNEIDER: (As Ms. Cartman) Right. Because it will hybrid with all those other processers and generate a whole new era of technological darkness.

MCCULLOCH: (As Bill Cosby) Correct.

SHAPIRO: The Trapper Keeper never ushered in technological apocalypse, but it did take over the world in a way. People bought more than 75 million of them.

CHANG: Crutchfield himself was curious why. So when he sent out the first prototypes, he included a feedback card. When McCarthy interviewed Crutchfield for her Mental Floss profile, she asked him to share his favorite note. Here's a snippet of that conversation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

E BRYANT CRUTCHFIELD: His name was Fred Brown. And I said, why did you buy the Trapper Keeper? And his comment on the slip he sent into me was - he said, I just needed some place to keep my s***.

MCCARTHY: (Laughter).

E B CRUTCHFIELD: And so I showed that at a sales meeting. You know, kids that age are very open and honest.

SHAPIRO: Crutchfield's own kid, Ken, remembers his dad as a persistent innovator.

KEN CRUTCHFIELD: He was the kind of person that would not accept no for an answer, and he always was looking for a better way to do things. So he's also the type of person that could think outside of the box.

SHAPIRO: Ken Crutchfield also remembers his dad as a family man who loved inviting neighbors over for happy hour. His dad would fix up a Manhattan for himself.

K CRUTCHFIELD: As a matter of fact, after he passed, we put an honorary Manhattan on the table with us when we had some neighbors over to really kind of celebrate his life as he had left us.

CHANG: E. Bryant Crutchfield, inventor of the Trapper Keeper, died this month. He was 85. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Megan Lim
Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.