Early 20th Century Brassieres From The U.S. Patent Office

Innovative(?) Women’s Brassieres From The 1890s – 1910s

bra design 1914

Bra device designed by Mary Jacob from the U.S. Patent Office 1914

What’s the old saying? “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” The American Patent Office is filled with ideas, some practical, some brilliant, some completely off the wall.

These inventors from the early 1900s focused on one item of apparel – the brassiere. From squeezing to pushing, each of these inventors believed they had discovered the secret to enhancing a woman’s figure.

Some of these bras may have made it into production. But like most patent holders, believing their invention would lead to riches untold, it’s more likely they never got beyond a prototype model and a drawing.

Below are brief descriptions of each invention. At the end of the description is the name of the inventor and the patent date. Looking at many of these bra’s through modern eyes, they generally look uncomfortable and rather complicated to put on and remove

However, the first bra shown below, is historically significant. It’s essentially the first version of a sports bra. Though this bra was not called that, its design and intention is clear to any woman who wears a sports bra today. It’s time to acknowledge its inventor. Her name is Sarah Sorkin and she came up with the idea in 1916.

This invention relates to improvements in corset covers or brassieres.

One object of the invention is to so construct a brassiere that it will. perform the double function of a corset cover and brace for holding the shoulders of the wearer drawn back in proper position to prevent steeping.

Another object is to so construct a device of this character that it will force the shoulder blades or scapula: inward.

Another object of the invention is to provide a tight fitting body garment having an elastic strip arranged across the back thereof with inelastic strips connected adjacent the ends of said elastic strip and adapted to extend under the bust of the wearer to assist in affording resistance to the elastic strip when stretched.

With these and other objects in view, the invention consists of certain novel features of construction, and the combination and arrangement of parts to be herein after fully described and claimed. – Sarah Sorkin 1916

Sarah Sorkin 1916 bra design

Sarah Sorkin’s early invention of what would become the modern sports bra.

ONE-PIECE BRASSIERE AND PRINCESS-SLIP – This invention relates to a combination garment, that is to say, two garments combined into a so-called one-piece garment, to wit, a princess-slip provided with steels to adapt the slip to perform a double function, that of a brassiere and a petticoat. While it is common to sew or otherwise secure a petticoat and a brassiere together, such combination s not satisfactory, for the reason that a seam is formed which produces a ridge in the outer garment, and as both a brassiere and princess-slip are nowadays used in place of more bulky garments in order that a tight fitting dress can be worn, the result of sewing the two together is not satisfactory. – Adolph Heimlich 1913

Whereas several forms of corsets or stays have been devised for the so called improvement and development of ladies figures, my invention has in addition to these advantages the object of forming a real support for the breasts Without the addition of padding or cumbersome material all of which are injurious to the circulation of the blood and to the health.

In carrying my invention into effect, I provide a shield Or pad either of a cup-shape or semi-cup shape, and form or construct on the inner side thereof and within the borders, a horizontally disposed sloping shelf adapted to receive and support the breast. The said shield is preferably perforated to allow free ventilation, and the shelf is also perforated for a similar purpose. Around the edges of the shields I attach a pneumatic tube so that undue pressure on the body is obviated. The cup shaped shields can be worn With Ordinary morning dress but With dresses cut low for evening Wear the semi-cup shaped appliance will be necessary. Samuel Bergheim 1895

Bra support 1895The object of the present invention is to combine and distribute the fatty tissues of a female figure so as to impart a more pleasing bust configuration.

A further object of the invention is so to distribute and apply stiffening means to a brassiere as to cause a forward distribution of the fatty tissues under` the arms and cause the same to continue apparently into a bust configuration, either artificial or natural. – Josiphine Rovira 1915

This invention relates to the article of women’s apparel known as brassiere, the object being to provide a construction which will not only serve efficiently the usual functions of a brassiere but which can be manufactured at low cost.

The article, according to my invention, is made of elastic webbing or bands stitched together in such manner as to produce a shape that will fit the breast, and without’ cutting the rubber strands which are incorporated in the webbing. In this way the elasticity of the device as a whole is preserved and the waste which is experienced in the manufacture of such articles as heretofore practiced is avoided, as will be more fully explained hereinafter. – Edgar Guggenheim 1915

Guggenheim bra

Sarah Sorkin 1916 bra design

Sarah Sorkin’s early invention of what would become the modern sports bra.

The Patent Office has its archives online. If you would like to read the full description of any invention you can type the patent number seen in the illustration into a search engine.

We’ll soon be devoting another story to some of the more unusual patents that were filed over 100 years ago.

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