89.8k readers

What The Heck Happened To Trapper Keepers?

Updated January 22, 2020 89.8k views12 items

Whether you had one or not when you were middle school, the specter of the Trapper Keeper still looms large over your head, perhaps even more than any of its other '90s nostalgia-inducing school supply counterparts. But what happened to Trapper Keepers? Did they just disappear from the earth as soon as the '90s ended? Where did they even come from? Trapper Keepers are one of those mystical items that seem like they simply appeared in a cool kid’s locker on the first day of school, and if you lived without one you would live in woe until at least spring break. Despite what you’ve heard, these mini portfolios aren’t magical, but the history of Trapper Keepers is fascinating, and it deserves a look if for no other reason than to inform yourself about one of the things that made life so cool in the '80s and '90s.

Do kids still use Trapper Keepers, or do they just email all of their homework to their teachers now? That’s one of the key pieces of information that you’ll learn on this breakdown of whatever the heck happened to Trapper Keepers. You'll even get an inside look at the Trapper Keeper contraband controversy from the '90s and how it’s changed over time. Even though they were just something you needed for school, Trapper Keepers defied their root purpose and became an exalted form of cool and self expression in a way that so few things can. Keep reading and prepare to fall in love with Trapper Keepers all over again.

  • Teachers Weren't Crazy About Trapper Keepers

    It turns out that despite their efforts to singlehandedly make going to school cool again, Trapper Keepers weren't too popular with teachers. Educators complained not only about the size of the portfolios, but also about the sound they made when they were opened. 

    "They're real clever and cute, but they're just too big," said a teacher from Sugarland Elementary School in Sterling, Virgina. "They're so big, they take up so much space, they have so many compartments. You ask a student to take out a worksheet, and by the time they open all the sections out and find it, the Trapper Keeper has reached over to another person's desk."

    The Trappers also began to show up on "do not buy" lists because they contained multiplication and conversion tables, which some teachers believed help students cheat. While that was never modified, Mead did change the Velcro flap to a metal snap after some teachers - annoyed by the loud noise every time a student opened a binder - tried to ban the product from schools. 

  • Their Commercials Were Supes Weird

    Video: YouTube

    No product directed towards children in the '80s and '90s was able to escape having a weird commercial that made the product seem very cool, but also like it was made for crazy people. In the above commercial, the guy obviously has a bigger problem in his life than whatever a Trapper Keeper can fix. He's not just disorganized; he has a complete inability to take care of himself. It's nice of his friend to offer her help, but she's just going to be pulled into his black hole of hoarding sooner or later. Towards the mid '90s, the commercial changed to match the more Capri Sun vibe of appealing to pre-teens, but the ads were just as strange. This Trapper Keeper commercial from the mid '90s threatens that the product might swallow the universe if you're not careful, and that's totally radical

  • Nothing Gold Can Stay

    Photo: flickr / CC0

    When the mid '90s rolled around, a sea change was beginning to take place on campuses and in the world of paper sales, the ramifications of which wouldn't be completely felt until a decade later. But the falling sales of paper, along with the movement to ban Trappers from schools for their size, sound, and ability to turn students against one another, combined into the perfect storm to knock Trappers out of favor for the first time since the late '70s. Every bubble has to burst, but 20 years isn't bad as far as novelty binders go. 

  • You Can Still Buy Trapper Keepers

    Even though sales of Trapper Keepers dropped off significantly in the mid to late '90s, Mead has continually pumped out Trappers with different designs and much less PVC (even Amazon has options!). Peter Bartlett, director of Product Innovation at ACCO Brands, explained, "The main change is that we went away from PVC, as most health-conscious companies are trying to do, so it looks slightly different because it’s made out of polypropylene and sewn fabric, but the function is essentially the same.”