The dictionary has thousands of words that have more than one meaning in the English language. The word I am referring to can relate to snow skiing, snow boarding, and even water skiing, but that’s not the meaning I am using here. The word is shredding.
Many of us collect a lot of old bills, receipts, etc. that have our personal information on them. To simply put them in the paper recycling container could be dangerous if they were to get into the wrong hands, say someone who wanted to steal your identity. That is why we use the paper shredder for those sensitive documents. While shredding a stack of papers I started to wonder who came up with the idea of a machine to cut sheets of paper into unreadable shreds.
I went to my old standby Wikipedia for the lowdown on shredders. Here is the definition. “A paper shredder is a mechanical device used to cut paper into chad, typically either strips or fine particles. Government organizations, businesses, and private individuals use shredders to destroy private, confidential, or otherwise sensitive documents. Privacy experts often recommend that individuals shred bills, tax documents, credit card and bank account statements, and other items which could be used by thieves to commit fraud or identity theft.”
I am always fascinated with the history of items we use every day without a second thought what people did without them. The first person credited with inventing the paper shredder was Abbot Augustus Low an inventor from Horseshoe which is located on the Western shore of Horseshoe Lake in Piercefield, New York. Low filed for his patent on February 2, 1909 and got patent number 929,960 for his “waste paper receptacle” August 3,1909. That’s great! But when did he start selling this innovative piece of equipment? That’s the problem. He never manufactured it not alone selling even one.
Someone who did follow through with his invention was Adolf Ehinger, but he did it for a very unusual reason. He used the hand-crank pasta maker as a model for his paper shredder in 1935 in Germany. As the story goes he used it to shred his anti-Nazi propaganda to avoid getting caught by the authorities. He eventually sold his shredder to government agencies and financial institutions who needed to safely dispose of discarded documents. He modified his invention by replacing the hand crank with an electric motor. In 1959 he made the first cross-cut paper shredder at his EBA Maschinenfarbrik Company. The company is now called EBA Krug & GmbH & Company in Balingen, Germany and it continues to produce paper shredders.
Wikipedia relates the true story of the U.S. Embassy takeover in Iran in 1979 as and an example of how sensitive documents were shredded into strips of paper to protect secrets. It seems that some of those documents were pieced back together despite being cut up. Another historical reference was to the Iran-Contra scandal. Colonel Oliver North testified before Congress that he used a Schleicher Itimus 007 cross-cut shredder to destroy Iran-Contra documents. His testimony was made public and in 1987 sales of that shredder increased by nearly 20%.
In 1988 a U.S. Supreme Court decision stated that the 4th Amendment does not prohibit a search of someone’s garbage without a warrant. Shredder sales among the general public then increased as people realized that anyone could search through their trash and find personal information which they could use for illegal purposes.
Shredders can cause problems if something you do not want shredded gets caught in the blades. The funniest situation remember seeing depicted was in the movie “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” starring Woopie Goldberg when the long borrowed gown she was wearing got caught in a shredder.
Today there are many sizes of shredders from an adapted pair of scissors to industrial truck-size shredders. There are also many varieties of shredders that are used for various specific materials. According to Wikipedia they include: “Strip-cut shredders, the least secure, use rotating knives to cut narrow strips as long as the original sheet of paper. Such strips can be reassembled by a determined and patient investigator or adversary, as the product (the destroyed information) of this type of shredder is at least randomized. It also creates the highest volume of waste inasmuch as the strips are not compressed. Cross-cut or confetti-cut shredders use two contra-rotating drums to cut rectangular, parallelogram or lozenge (diamond shaped) shreds. Particle-cut shredders create tiny square or circular pieces. Cardboard shredders are designed specifically to shred corrugated material into either strips or a mesh pallet. Disintegrators and granulators repeatedly cut the paper at random until the particles are small enough to pass through a mesh. Hammermills pound the paper through a screen. Pierce-and-tear shredders have rotating blades that pierce the paper and then tear it apart. Grinders have a rotating shaft with cutting blades that grind the paper until it is small enough to fall through a screen.”
To complicate things even more there are 7 security levels from P-1 equal to or less that 12 millimeters wide strips of any length (least secure) to P-7 equal to or less than 5 mm2 particles with width equal to or less than 1mm (most secure).
Most of us are a bit paranoid these days about someone stealing our identity. The best way to prevent that from happening is to refrain from giving out any personal information to a phone or computer solicitor that you don’t know. And, of course, shred all documents letters, etc. that contain credit card numbers, your Social Security number or any other sensitive information that needs to be kept private.
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