Made School Cool

E. Bryant Crutchfield, The Creator Of The Trapper Keeper, Dies At 85

Crutchfield developed the binder every ‘80s and ‘90s kid wanted, and needed.

A retro Trapper Keeper.

Farewell to the man who provided Gen Xers and millennials with the grade school contraption they couldn’t live without.

E. Bryant Crutchfield, a Mead (now part of ACCO Brands) paper company employee who created the Trapper Keeper and all its three-ringed goodness, died of bone cancer on Sunday at a hospice center in Marietta, Georgia, according to The New York Times. He was 85, and is survived by his wife, Virginia (K’burg) Crutchfield; his daughter, Carol Iyer; his son, Kenneth Crutchfield; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Mead nationally released Crutchfield’s invention in 1981, and by the end of the decade it was estimated to be nestled in the backpacks of half of all middle and high school students in the U.S. For several years after its release, the paper company sold over $100 million worth of folders and notebooks a year, according to Mental Floss. And, as of 2017, more than 75 million Trapper Keepers were purchased.

The Trapper Keeper, essentially a large binder, kept students’ papers, handouts and assignments secure inside with a button, hook and loop, or Velcro closure. Two vertical pockets helped kids stay organized, plus three-hole punched sheets stayed trapped thanks to 1-inch round binder rings. A metal clip also secured papers and notes, among other things.

Then, there was the outside. Crutchfield clearly understood the importance of visuals, as early versions of the Trapper Keeper featured images of soccer players, dogs and cats, and other nostalgic stock images he bought from a design agency. The binders eventually went on to feature now iconic designs by artists like Lisa Frank, as well as bright neon patterns and stills from beloved films and TV shows.

Kids were able to express their personalities with Trapper Keepers, which also served as doodle boards, recess shields and cat-nap pillows. They contained not only homework but love notes, stickers, pens, Post-its, CDs and even the ol’ VHS tape. (Pretty sure POGS had a home in Trapper Keepers, too.)

A true gift to adolescents everywhere.

In a 2017 interview with Mental Floss, Crutchfield explained that the Trapper Keeper “was the most scientific and pragmatically planned product ever in that industry.” Kids participated in a creative committee that helped develop the organizational product, teachers and students shared feedback in focus groups, and Crutchfield even tested the product on his teenaged kids. After five or six iterations of the binder, Mead finally launched it in Wichita, Kansas, and “it sold out completely.”

When it hit shelves nationwide in the early ‘80s for $4.85, Crutchfield said “it was just like a rocket.”

“It was the biggest thing we’d ever done,” he added. “I saw kids fight over designs in retail.”

Though it became less popular after the mid ‘90s, the Trapper Keeper has staying power in nostalgic hearts. And with shows like Stranger Things giving new life to the beloved product, Mead’s back-to-school line features the $15 Trapper Keeper with the tag line, “Being retro never looked so organized.”

Thanks for the memories, Mr. Crutchfield.