ID lanyards might seem like the most mundane things in the modern world since they’re pretty much everywhere nowadays. However, their origins are anything but mundane or modern. But although the modern world is very different from the one that birthed the original ID lanyard, it was no less as useful or indispensable then as it is now.
The real story behind its creation is one that could rival those of some of the modern age’s more famous inventions.
Hundreds of years ago, civilizations relied on big ships to transport people and cargo across the seas. Vicious pirates and menacing sea monsters aside, manning the ship was a very dangerous task. Unlucky sailors assigned to looking after the thick masts of tall ships often faced a high climb made all the more unsteady by big waves pitching against the ship. What made this task more difficult was that the sailors often had to carry tools with them when they climbed up, which made getting a good, firm grip difficult.
One of the said sailors eventually put his knowledge of knot-tying to good use, and rounded up pieces of rope on the ship to make a rudimentary lanyard. But since this was the age before ID cards were invented, the world’s first lanyard was used by sailors to wear knives or other tools around their necks so they could climb up thick masts with both hands free.
And since sailors occasionally went on shore leave, the lanyards they brought with them attracted the attention of land dwellers, who adapted the clever little buggers to suit their own needs. From being basic sailor knots fashioned out of thick, rough ropes, lanyards evolved to more delicate, intricate knotted necklaces of silk or velvet. Since they were invented to secure precious items that could be easily dropped or lost, some members of the aristocracy used them to keep keys to their palaces or jewelry boxes on their person. Even military forces acknowledged the lanyard’s usefulness, using cords of knotted gold rope to attach their swords or pistols to their uniforms before they rode into battle or went on parade.
Though ID lanyard prototypes have existed since the 15th century, the word “lanyard” was coined much later. The first part of the word was borrowed from an old French term: lanière, which means “thong,” or “strap.” The “yard” portion was an abbreviated version of the term “yardarm,” which is what sailors call the horizontal beam of the ship that’s attached to the lower part of the sail.
Nowadays, ID lanyards are everywhere. Used in schools, offices, and events, ID lanyards serve as holders for the essentials of people who live and work in the 21st century. A quick trip around pretty much any developed city in the world will most likely result in a sighting or two of a citizen with their office or school ID card, smartphone, and/or mini MP3 player hanging from a brightly-colored length of fabric hanging around their neck.
Unlike in the old days when people had to make their own lanyards by purchasing or acquiring their own choice materials and then knotting it as needed, anyone can now take their pick from the numerous stores and shops that sell ID lanyards in varying lengths, colors, and fabrics. Today’s ID lanyards are also a godsend for factories that produce custom, personalized goods since they are easy and cheap to make, and are usually ordered in large quantities. Still, despite the many changes it went through in the past few centuries, the lanyard has retained its original purpose: ensuring that its owner keeps a hold over something important to him or her.