E. Bryant Crutchfield, creator of the Trapper Keeper, dies at 85

E. Bryant Crutchfield, a paper company executive whose design of iconic products became a touchstone of student life in the 1980s and 1990s, and an ordained object of nostalgia forever, died Aug. 21. in a hospice in Marietta, Ga. The creator of the Trapper Keeper was 85 years old.

His wife, Virginia Crutchfield, confirmed his death and said the cause was cancer.

Mr. Crutchfield, known as “Crutch,” spent more than three decades at Mead, the paper company long-headquartered in Dayton, Ohio. He held the title of director of new ventures in the 1970s, when he embarked on such a venture that would produce a sensational and enduringly popular school offering.

The Trapper Keeper, essentially a three-ring binder for holding and organizing files, is an instantly recognizable product for generations who grew up making cassette tape mixtapes, laughing at sitcoms such as “Full House” and “Family Matters.” , and savoring the inimitable snap of the bracelet. In its heyday, the Trapper Keeper was an ubiquitous presence in school hallways across the country, carried under the arm or stored in book bags and lockers until it returned home with its owner, a capsule containing all the work of the day done and still to be done. done – and maybe a past note or two.

The story of the Trapper Keeper was detailed in a 2017 article in the online magazine Mental Floss, and the product’s origin story reflects all of the careful planning and attention to detail that any proud new owner of this product will go to. a Trapper Keeper might aspire to.

Mr. Crutchfield began developing the product in the early 1970s. Market research had revealed that future school years would see more students per class, with less locker space for each student. The data also revealed an increase in the popularity of wallets or folders.

“You can’t take six 150-page notebooks with you and you can’t trade them,” Mr Crutchfield told Mental Floss. “People were using portfolios more, so I wanted to create a notebook that would have portfolios in it, and they could take it to six classes.”

Mr. Crutchfield embarked on a process of market testing and refinement that would last several years. Inspired by the Pee-Chee brand of wallets that were popular on the West Coast at the time, he spearheaded the design of folders with pockets oriented vertically rather than horizontally to keep papers from slipping. These folders became known as Trappers, following a suggestion by Mr. Crutchfield’s head of research and development, Jon Wyant, who then came up with the Trapper Keeper name for the binder. “Bang!” Mr. Crutchfield told Mental Floss. “It was logical!”

Mr. Crutchfield assiduously gathered feedback from students, who raved about the elegant cover of Trappers and Trapper Keepers. Over the years, designs have featured cats and hearts, cars and athletes, psychedelic geometric patterns and Lisa Frank’s rainbow designs. Mr. Crutchfield also consulted teachers, who at first warmly approved of his organizational invention. He found particularly useful helpers in his two children, including his son, an avowed ideal test case for the Trapper Keeper.

“My locker was a mess,” Ken Crutchfield recalled in an interview. “I’ve never really been very good at keeping things very organized, even to this day.”

The Trapper Keeper made its test market debut in Wichita in 1978 and began selling nationwide three years later. Sales were boosted by a national prime-time television ad campaign in which a disorganized young man clashes with a sassy young woman at the library, throwing her trapper to the ground. In the flirtatious conversation that ensues, she extols the merits of the Mead line of products.

“Boy, I have to find a trapper and pull myself together,” the student says.

“If you do,” replies his new acquaintance, “I’ll let you carry my books.”

Right from the start, the Trapper Keeper caused a stir.

“We rolled it out, and it was like a rocket,” Mr Crutchfield said. “It was the greatest thing we’ve ever done. I’ve seen kids fighting over designs in retail. According to Mental Floss, Mead began selling more than $100 million worth of folders and binders a year.

Ernest Bryant Crutchfield, an only child, was born in Greenville, Alabama, southwest of Montgomery, on February 5, 1937. Both of his parents worked in a cotton mill.

Mr Crutchfield was the first person in his family to graduate from college, according to his wife. He earned a Bachelor of Applied Arts from Auburn University in Alabama in 1960 and later served in the Air Force Reserve.

He began his career with Montag, a stationery and school supply company which later became part of Mead. At Mead, Mr. Crutchfield oversaw product development including the Valet stationery set, which came with a plastic envelope holder and set a sales record for the company in the late 1960s.

After leaving Mead, Mr. Crutchfield worked for the Georgia-Pacific paper company for a decade before retiring.

Survivors include his wife of 61 years, the former Virginia K’Burg of Marietta; two children, Ken Crutchfield of Alexandria, Va., and Carol Iyer of St. Augustine, Fla.; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

By the late 1990s, Trapper Keepers had begun to lose popularity, including among teachers, many of whom hated the noisy Velcro that replaced the binder’s original snap closure. Some schools banned trappers, while others, still recognizing their organizational potential, required them. Sensing the potential for a comeback, Acco Brands, Mead’s modern parent company, relaunched the line last year.

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