The History and Importance of Ribbon Cutting Ceremonies


Completing a construction project can take years of in-depth planning and execution, and when finished, the question remains: how do you celebrate new architecture? Ribbon cuttings are ceremonies used by many around the world to inaugurate the opening of a brand new or newly renovated building or business.

They are most often used for the following:

  • As a powerful tool for publicity and the media.
  • To commemorate a “new beginning” for the business in question.
  • To inform the public and the community alike about the existence and mission of the building.

What is a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony?

Ribbon cutting ceremonies take place to inaugurate an organization’s first day of business or can take place weeks or even months after a business’ soft opening. They act as an opportunity for business owners and leaders to talk about what their business does and publicly thank those who had an important role in making their business come to fruition. These entities include:

  • Stakeholders
  • Employees
  • Business partners
  • Contractors and architects
  • Friends and family
  • Clients

Ribbon cutting ceremonies are typically orchestrated with an actual ribbon tied across the main entrance of a building, which is later cut in a ceremonial fashion with a significantly large pair of scissors. The ribbon is usually cut by a person of influence, such as the owner of the building or a member of the local Chamber of Commerce.

While grand openings and ribbon cutting ceremonies are often used interchangeably, the meaning of both are quite distinct. Grand openings are large, publicized events that announce the official opening of a new establishment to the public and can feature elaborate presentations such as fireworks and celebrity attendees. Ribbon cuttings generally take place at opening ceremonies, although they can be held both publicly and privately. Ribbons have a longstanding ceremonial significance, often being used to hang medals or be worn as a sash or other decoration. These ribbons are a sign of prestige, making them the perfect material to use for a ceremony of this kind.

Origins of Ceremonial Scissors

Abnormally large sized scissors, anywhere from 25”-40” in length, are used to cut the ribbon. The scissors are often gold in color but are known to have been made custom for a variety of famous customers such as Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffet, Lady Gaga, Google, and Target. The origin of these giant scissors can be traced back to the Bronze Age, with examples dating back over 3,000 years and later modernized in Rome, China, Japan, and Korea. However, custom scissors for these ceremonies were only invented and popularized in 1997.

The Beginning of Ribbon Cutting Ceremonies

Similar to groundbreaking ceremonies, the exact origin of ribbon cutting ceremonies are largely unknown. However, we do know that these ceremonies gained popularity in the late 1800’s after a ribbon cutting occurred at the opening of a Louisiana railroad line.

Railway Traditions

The Louisiana railway and the rise of the modern interstate highway system in the United States is what ultimately spurred the increase in demand for ribbon cutting ceremonies. The creation of new bridges, tunnels, and roadways reflected a desire for a “clear path” forward and have since been a staple in American culture to celebrate newly constructed feats.

Image source: Cape May Magazine

Boat and Dock Christenings

However, some of the earliest examples of these ceremonies date back to the late 19th century in the United Kingdom during boat and dock christenings, which involved smashing wine bottles against a ship and, at times, included a ribbon. Records can also be tied back to traditional wedding celebrations across Europe, in which cut ribbons were placed over the door of the family home to symbolize new freedom and the conquering of obstacles for couples.

Image source: Crownline Boats

Modern Significance of Ribbon Cutting Ceremonies

Ribbon cutting ceremonies act as a way to celebrate the new beginning of a business that has been months or even years in the making. Similar to slicing a wedding cake, throwing a cap and mortar in the air upon graduation, or removing a ribbon from a nicely packaged gift, the act of cutting a ribbon into two pieces symbolizes the idea of new beginnings and builds anticipation with the promise of an exciting future.

In construction, these ceremonies are used to announce the opening of an impressive building and introduce both the public and Chamber members to your business and your products/services. Perlo had the honor of participating in one recent ceremony for Nuna Baby, a tenant improvement on a two-story office and warehouse located in Vancouver, Washington.

“The Perlo team was an integral part of this process and we, along with our trade partners, were informed by our client weeks in advance of the planned celebration to help make it a success.”

Nick David, Perlo Project Manager

The Public Relations Side of Ribbon Cutting Ceremonies

Ribbon cutting ceremonies in modern times are powerful tools for generating positive press and for public relations and media purposes. Not only does this bring more brand awareness and potential customers to a company, but it helps create a lasting impression by carrying out a visual performance. It also provides a chance to mingle and network with coworkers, peers and community members, and provides an opportunity to thank those who have made contributions towards making the establishment a success. “We took extra care and coordination to ensure that the hard work, quality, and dedication of our trade partners was acknowledged and showcased at the ceremony,” says David.

Additionally, ribbon cutting ceremonies generate media coverage through the speeches of prominent public figures. Whether it be the client, developer of a project, member of the Chamber of Commerce, or Mayor of the city, these speeches provide an excellent platform to showcase how a company has met its mission and can now be a place of business for the community. Regarding Nuna Baby, David notes that, “The company owner was flying in from Taiwan and was in attendance along with the Mayor from the City of Vancouver, Nuna Baby leadership, employees, and their families,” demonstrating just how important these ceremonies are to those involved.

The ceremonial tools utilized in ribbon cuttings are often reserved for the business heads and leadership teams who were instrumental in initiating, supporting, or running the business. As the ceremonial scissors made their way into the hands of more visible public figures, they became an opportunity for promotion. The larger the scissors, the bigger the opportunity for media attention.

Attendees and public figures also have the opportunity to pose with the ribbon and scissors to serve as commemorative photos for future company archives as well as exposure in public newspapers or other media outlets.

Final Thoughts

Ribbon cutting ceremonies represent a major milestone and positive turning point for companies and can have a profound impact on the publicity, promotion, and long-term success of businesses and individuals. Not only can these ceremonies attract local politicians, celebrities, and notable figures of a community, it’s also a great way to commemorate a significant moment in a business’ history.