How Paper Shredders Work

Shredders in Pop Culture

Clearly, the most famous shredder in popular culture would have to be the villain Shredder from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." But since our scope is limited to machines, let's just stick to how document shredders have shown up throughout history and in the media.

And where better to start than Watergate? It was there that G. Gordon Liddy probably not so fondly recalled "shredding stuff left and right" with a Shredmaster 400 model [sources: Benac, Woestendiek]. He later went to prison for more than four years for his part in covering up -- or ripping to shreds -- evidence of the 1972 break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters.


As we said earlier, during the Iran-Contra hearings, Oliver North said he used a shredder right outside the door where Department of Justice officials were poring over his papers. In a story familiar to most users of paper shredders, his machine even jammed. (North really should've upgraded to a better model; his $7,500 Intimus might have chewed one piece of paper into 10,000 pieces of confetti in a second, but you could only feed 12 pieces of paper at a time [source: Dean and Krier]

The Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 also featured a shredder. The Americans had shredded a load of documents, which the Iranians found and pieced together using -- get this -- experts in Persian carpet-weaving. (They were in the old-school vertical strip form.) After that, the government demanded agencies have strict standards for particle shred size [source: Woestendiek].

After Enron's collapse in 2002, paper shredders again made headlines when both Enron and Arthur Andersen (Enron's auditor) were accused of shredding internal documents. Andersen officials later had their conviction of obstruction of justice overturned after the U.S. Supreme Court found the jury's instructions for conviction too vague.

One now waits with bated breath to see what corrupt/shady/inappropriate action will bring paper shredders back into the spotlight. Corrupt politician? Sneaky CEO? Suave yet dastardly spy looking to destroy proof of a double-agent status? Who knows. But to learn a lot more information about paper shredders, allow yourself to be fed into the machine of the next page.

Author's Note: How Paper Shredders Work

I have to mention John Woestendiek's extremely well-researched and engaging feature about the history of paper shredders, published in the Baltimore Sun. I stumbled on it during my first few hours of research, and it made my formerly ho-hum attitude toward shredders morph into enthusiasm for their place in history. Check it out for more detail and history behind the much-maligned machines.

Related Articles


  • Adirondack Museum. "Adirondack Journal -- A.A. Low's empire." Adirondack Museum. 2013. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • Benac, Nancy. "Trouble can lead to shredding impulse." The Associated Press. Jan. 22, 2002. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • Carter, Lesa. "How do paper shredders work." Fellowes Chipper. Dec. 2, 2012. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • Dahle Shredder. "Cross Cut Shredders vs. Strip Cut Shredders." KL Security Enterprises. Jan. 30, 2012 (Feb. 28, 2013)
  • Dean, Paul and Krier, Beth Ann. "The Shredder." Los Angeles Times. July 13, 1987. (Feb. 20, 2013
  • GSA Price. "Kobra Cyclone HS6 High Security Shredder." Mono Machines. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • History Channel. "Oliver North starts feeding documents into the shredding machine." The History Channel. 2013. (Feb. 21, 2013)
  • ITS Tactical. "How to securely dispose of sensitive documents." ITS Tactical. Sept. 13, 2010. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • Low, Abbot Augustus. "Waste-paper receptacle." U.S. Patent 929,960, filed Feb. 2, 1909, and issued Aug. 3, 1909. (March 1, 2013)
  • Mastis, Lindsey. "About paper shredders." Fellowes Chipper. Dec. 2, 2012. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • Mono Machines. "What is an NSA approved shredder?" Mono Machines. Jan. 4, 2010. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • National Association for Information Destruction. "Website." NAID. 2012. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • Security Engineered Machinery. "Level 6 Paper Shredders." Security Engineered Machinery. 2013. (Feb. 28, 2013)
  • Shred Nations. "The history of paper shredding machines." Shred Nations. 2013. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • Smalley, Suzanne. "Evidence destroyed." Newsweek. Jan. 28, 2002. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • United States Patent Office. "Patent 929960." Aug. 3, 1909. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • Untha Shredders. "Industrial shredder." Untha Shredding Technology. Nov. 3, 2011. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • Vecoplan. "Website." Vecoplan. 2011. (Feb. 20, 2013)
  • Woestendiek, John. "The compleat(sic) history of shredding." The Baltimore Sun. Feb. 10, 2002. (Feb. 20, 2013)