The paper clip is a staple of office culture. They perform a necessary office function--keeping papers together on a temporary basis--that few if any other products can do so effectively and cheaply. U.S. paper clip producers, though, don't understand why Americans buy so many of them. Last year, American consumers purchased 11 billion paper clips. That's about 35 clips for every person in the country.

"We actually can't understand how the U.S. consumption can be so huge," an executive at Officemate, one of the nation's two main paper clip manufactures, told The Wall Street Journal. The Journal has a story out today about a bid by Officemate's main paper clip rival, ACCO, to create an alternative paper-holder-together called the Klix, with a price point 16 times higher than the traditional paper clip. Curiously, most paper clips bought in the U.S. are produced domestically--primarily due to a import tariff the United States places on cheaply-produced paper clips from nations like China. (Plastic-coated clips are excluded from the tax.)

In any case, even office-supply execs aren't sure why Americans buy so many of paper clips they make. (Not that they're complaining.) Thirty-five per person per year does seem high, though maybe not that high. Here are some of the alternative uses for paper clips The Journal's penetrating reportage found. They might explain America's distorted demand for the twisted pieces of metal wire.

  • Hanging Christmas ornaments
  • Cleaning pipes
  • Unclogging tubes of glue
  • Cleaning fingernails
  • Bending clips while talking on the phone
  • And throwing said bent clips into trash can

Presumably we're still using them to hold paper together, too.