Ross Lowell, the person who invented gaffer tape, is no longer with us, and it took his departure to make us think at length about gaffer tape, and that someone invented it. There’s a lesson here about Genius, because Mr. Lowell invented gaffer tape to help with another thing he was inventing.
He was tinkering with his first prototype for a swivel lighting mount when he produced one of Lowel-Light’s most popular products. Lowell wanted to tape his lights to a vertical surface, but he needed a heat-resistant tape that would not leave sticky residue on the wall, according to Shapiro-Lowell. He discovered Johnson & Johnson’s Permacel tape, also known as “duct tape” because it was used on ducts and heating coils. He found a way to affix the adhesive used on Permacel to silver fabric, and Lowel-Light introduced “gaffer tape” to the market.
I learned about gaffer tape when I worked on the stage crew in college, setting up lights and sound for live events on campus. I was basically paying tuition and volunteering my labor to be a roadie who never went on the road. On my first day helping to set up overly elaborate lighting for an appearance by comedian Robert Klein (he mocked the excessive lighting in his opening remarks), the head crew-person stopped me and pointed at the roll of black fabric tape I was using to cover lighting cables on the floor so nobody would trip over them. “Watch that stuff when you’re done with it,” he said. “It walks.” By which he meant somebody would steal it since it was incredibly useful. So naturally I pocketed a roll, eventually using it to tape up the headliner in my Mercury Montego MX Brougham, deceased.
In honor of Ross Lowell, we present a list of tapes, ranked in order of vital necessity.