I became worried that we may have lost another icon to history when the Office Depot in my town stopped carrying the venerable Pocket Protector. So, I decided to get busy and hunt for a new supply. I found this at the IEEE History Center:
History of the Pocket Protector (link)
Full text is here in case the link goes down:
There was no such thing as a nerd back in 1947, when Erich Klein opened a small factory on Chicago's North Side and became one of the first manufacturers to make plastic pocket protectors.
“It slipped into a shirt pocket and was useful to anyone who carried a fountain pen or a ballpoint pen, which had ink leakage problems," said Randy Silton, Mr. Klein's grandson and president of the company, Erell Manufacturing. "We still make hundreds of thousands a year, but most others have dropped them from their lines. I guess pocket protectors aren't so popular anymore."
That's a polite way to put it. Made possible by the same heat-sealing process used to make World War II flak jackets, the pocket protector was intended as an advertising giveaway, emblazoned with a company logo. But this simple polyvinyl chloride product evolved into something far more culturally symbolic: it became the ultimate emblem of nerdiness.
"My first computer course in college was taught by a guy with so many pocket protectors he seemed to be some son of animatronic device with a bad haircut, said Alan Robbins, an associate professor of design at Kean University in New Jersey. "Pocket protectors organize tools on the wearer's body, turning the user into a kind of rudimentary cyborg - part human, part toolbox.”
In the 1980's, pocket protectors enjoyed a brief hey-day. Since then, they have become self-conscious. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum gift shop sells a $1.25 protector emblazoned with "M.I.T. Nerd Pride"; a recent Levenger's catalogue offers a leather protector for $19.95.
"I sometimes poke fun of it as a cultural icon, but I feel naked without one:” said John Shipman, an applications specialist at the New Mexico Tech Computer Center in Socorro, N.M. "Ever since high school, when all the other kids were going down to the gun store to look around, I was going to the local office supply store. I guess I was a proto-geek."
Edward Tenner, the author of "When Things Bite Back. Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences" (Knopf, 1996), said: "Now, anything as aggressively useful as trying to protect your shirt from ink is anti-chic. The fact that the pocket protector is a joke Is an example of the triumph of culture over technology."
Robert Friedel, a professor of history at the University of Maryland, says one problem with the protector was the material it was cut from because plastic "promises imperviousness to ruin and to soil, but in a way so avowedly artificial that there's another part of us that tends to recoil a bit"
New York Times, Michelle Slatalla, 24 June 1999
NOTE: IEEE does not sell pocket protectors!
Thankfully, I found some "still active" sources:
Erell Mfg. Co.: A huge selection
Baumgarten’s Pocket Protectors