Unraveling the origins of duct tape is almost as sticky as the polyethylene-coated cloth itself. Some experts say the forerunner of today's duct tape was invented in the 1920s, while others say it was invented by U.S. military for use during World War II. The water-resistant tape was popular with soldiers who used it to help keep moisture out of ammunition cases. Some say this is where the term "duck" tape came from, because the heavy cloth tape repelled water like a duck's feathers. Some tape was also made from duck cloth.

After the war, when Americans started building new homes in unprecedented numbers, contractors used the tape to connect the metal ductwork of home heating systems. And because the strong, inexpensive tape was good at holding together a lot more than just ducts, manufacturers began marketing "duct" tape directly to consumers. It soon became a staple of every homeowner's tool box.