The Story Of How Meticulous Research Built The Trapper Keeper

Who knew? Trapper Keepers were designed to solve problems for a very particular, growing market.

For any child of the ’70s or ’80s, it’s hard not to get a bit nostalgic about the Trapper Keeper. A Trapper Keeper wasn’t just a prepubescent productivity tool; it was a right of passage. You’d grown up a little. You needed big boy folders. And you needed those folders protected by a red Lamborghini backed by a lightning bolt.


But most of us never considered the story behind the Trapper Keeper, which has sold 75 million units to date. Mental Floss tracked down its inventor, Mead’s E. Bryant Crutchfield, who painted a very detailed history on how the Trapper Keeper came to be. Though it has a fairly iconic design–an illustrated three-ring binder that held in folders with vertical pockets that snapped or velcroed shut–Mental Floss learned that the Trapper Keeper was actually the result of meticulous market research. From the site:

As director of New Ventures at Mead, part of Crutchfield’s job was to identify trends in the marketplace. In 1972, his analysis, conducted with someone at Harvard, showed there would be more students per classroom in the coming years. Those students were taking more classes and had smaller lockers.

Fast forward a few years, when Crutchfield’s analysis revealed that sales of portfolios, or folders, were increasing at 30 percent a year. Thinking back to that Harvard report, a lightbulb went off. “You can’t take six 150-page notebooks around with you, and you can’t interchange them,” Crutchfield says. “People were using more portfolios, so I wanted to make a notebook that would hold portfolios, and they could take that to six classes.”

We won’t spoil the rest of the story, but suffice it to say, a combination of informed design, clever marketing, meticulous user feedback, and style evolution followed to make the Trapper Keeper a landmark success. That was, before the tween status symbol of choice became a smartphone rather than a personal organizer.

Read more here.

[Image: Flickr user Headlines & Heroes]


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.