Famous Women Inventors

Mary Phelps Jacob

Inventor of the Modern Brassiere

Mary Phelps Jaco

Imagine putting on an excruciatingly tight vest stiffened with whalebones and steel rods that poke into your torso, holding your upper body in an unnatural, agonizing position. Does this sound like some kind of medieval torture device? Not quite. In the early part of the 20th century, women’s undergarments were barbarous, awkward and very unhealthy for the wearer.

Enter Mary Phelps Jacob, a young New York socialite who became exasperated with the antiquated corsets after finding it impossible to prevent the support rods from poking out from underneath the fabric of her evening gown. Determined to create a more comfortable, less cumbersome alternative, Jacob took two silk handkerchiefs and, with help from her maid, sewed them together using some pink ribbon and cord.

The resulting undergarment was soft and light, and it conformed to the wearer’s anatomy far more naturally than the traditional corsets. Soon requests poured in from family, friends and even strangers, all of whom wanted to purchase the new accessory. Recognizing the immense potential of her invention, Jacob quickly patented the "Backless Brassiere" and began selling the units under the name "Caresse Crosby."

Jacob's design was the first brassiere to enjoy widespread use, but its popularity did not peak until World War I, when the U.S. government requested that women stop purchasing corsets in order to conserve metal. Unfortunately, Jacob had by that time sold her invention patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company, which proceeded to market the most popular brassiere in the country over the next 30 years. However, even though Mary Phelps Jacob never received many accolades for her invention, she had, by the time of her death in 1970, observed with satisfaction as her immensely popular undergarment made life more comfortable and more convenient for millions of grateful women.

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