The Evolution of Paper Shredders: From Basic to Advanced Solutions

Many people see the office shredder as little more than a necessary piece of office equipment. But this unassuming equipment is all that stands between many people and organisations from identity theft and corruption. We look the evolution of paper shredders over the years.

Although most people don’t give it much thought, the paper shredder is actually rather ingenious.  The easiest way to dispose of documents before this technology existed was to burn them.  Consider the time and effort required to organise a weekly bonfire to burn sensitive documents, or the massive fire required to destroy years’ worth of business records before making the switch to digital data storage.

Evolution of Paper Shredders

How paper shredders have evolved


Since at least 4000 B.C.E. in Egypt, when papyrus was first invented, there has been a need to destroy paper.

A few millennia later, in 1909, Abbot Augustus Low secured a patent for his “waste paper receptacle,” which was meant to streamline the process of discarding paper. This was the first paper shredder. Yet Low’s idea was never put into production; it remained a theoretical construct.

In 1935, German inventor Adolf Ehinger created the first practical paper shredder. He based his invention on a hand pasta maker and used it to destroy his anti-Nazi literature so that the authorities wouldn’t become interested in him. 

World War II and the subsequent Cold War may have provided the ideal impetus for the rising popularity of the paper shredder, and Ehinger certainly capitalised on this opportunity.  While several groups were busy developing and deciphering codes, Ehinger advertised his paper shredder to the federal government, the armed forces, and the banking sector. 

This savvy corporate manoeuvre probably cemented the humble paper shredder as an absolute necessity for any institution producing private records that may eventually need to be discarded, and quickly.

Paper shredding technology took a giant leap forward with the introduction of strip-cut shredders in the middle of the 20th century. Paper was shredded by these machines by rotating blades into long strips, greatly reducing the need for human labour. However, strip-cut shredders had security flaws that allowed for papers to be pieced back together by experts.

The development of cross-cut shredders in the latter part of the twentieth century marked a major step forward in the field of document destruction and security. The confetti-like fragments produced by cross-cut shredders are the result of two sets of blades cutting the paper in opposite directions. The security of shredded materials was increased because document reconstruction using this method was next to impossible. In 1959, Ehinger’s company (EBA Maschinenfabrik) produced the first cross cut paper shredder; the same system is still manufactured today.

In the years thereafter, paper shredders have been implicated in a number of high-profile scandals and crises, including the Watergate incident in 1972 and the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979.

It wasn’t until the mid-1980s that paper shredders started to see widespread use by organisations other than the government. Paper shredders were not widely used until the US Supreme Court determined that it was allowed to search and confiscate trash left on the curb for pickup.  

This coincided with an increase in attention to issues like identity theft and proper trash disposal, as well as a rise in the popularity of environmental groups who advocated against burning.

Significant advancements were made towards the end of the twentieth century in automated and power-driven shredding. In order to increase shredding capabilities and provide better convenience, electric motors have replaced laborious hand-cranking. The user experience was further enhanced by the inclusion of automated elements, such as sensors that sensed paper insertion and immediately initiated the shredding process.

evolution of paper shredders over the years

The development of micro-cut shredders in the early 21st century marked a significant technological advance in the shredding industry. Micro-cut shredders, which use complex blade arrangements to shred paper into extremely small pieces, offer the highest level of security currently in use. Government agencies, banks, and other entities that deal with sensitive data quickly adopted these devices.

Recently, paper shredders have incorporated new technology to improve their performance and convenience for customers. With the added automatic feeders, customers can now shred enormous amounts of paper without having to manually feed each sheet through the machine. By using optical sensors and microprocessors, jams can be detected and avoided, significantly simplifying the shredding process.

Paper shredders gained internet connectivity and smart functions in the 21st century as well. Some versions now include Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connectivity, allowing users to track shredding status, get maintenance notifications, and operate the shredder remotely via a smartphone app.

Growing environmental concerns led to the creation of environmentally friendly shredding options. Now, you can get shredders that are more eco-friendly than ever before, with features like automatic shutoffs during inactive periods and constructions made from recyclable materials.

To find out more about our range of shredders for sale, get in touch with a consultant online. We also offer SME finance options to assist small and medium companies to operate efficiently. If you’re in need of shredder rentals or shredding services, we will gladly advise and give you a free quote.

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