AMAZING LIVES: Mary Phelps Jacob

This is a new feature of the History Blog: occasional pieces focusing on the extraordinary lives of people you might not have heard of before.

Every morning, millions of women around the world wake up and put a bra on. It’s an everyday task, something that few probably put much thought into. But the story of the woman that invented the modern bra is simply amazing.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Mary Phelps Jacob.

Born on January 30, 1891, Mary Phelps Jacob – known as “Polly” to her family – came into a world of power and privilege. Her family were direct decedents of William Bradford, the first governor of the Plymouth Colony, and Robert Fulton, the inventor of the steamboat. Although nowhere near as rich as the Rockefellers or Vanderbilts, Polly’s family nevertheless had enough money to own three large estates in New York City, Long Island and Watertown, Connecticut. But Polly grew up in an age when a family’s name was as important as their bank balance. Based on her last name, Polly was able to attend the best private schools, the most exclusive cotillions, the fanciest horse riding academies… even a garden party hosted by King George V in 1914.

In fact, it was Polly’s “coming out” party in 1910 that inspired her to create the bra. Before this, women were expected to wear uncomfortable corsets to support their busts – a social convention contrived 350 years earlier by Catherine de’ Medici, the wife of King Henry II of France. But a corset simply wouldn’t work with Polly’s choice of dress – a tight-fitting number with a plunging neckline. The corset’s whalebone stays stuck out of the top of her dress, and overall she looked like she was wearing a life jacket underneath the dress. Undaunted, Polly called in her maid, and the two of them took a pair of silk handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon and fashioned something resembling a modern bra.

Polly’s creation proved to be quite a hit with her friends and family members. But it wasn’t until a complete stranger sent Polly a dollar along with a letter begging for one of her bras that Polly realized that the bra could be a commercial success. Accordingly, the U.S. Patent Office awarded Polly the first American patent for a brassiere on November 3, 1914, and Polly went in to business under the name “Caresse Crosby”. But Polly didn’t have any interest in running a business, and she soon sold her patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut for a mere $1,500 (around $38,000 in 2018 dollars). Warner Brothers would make an estimated $15 million over the next thirty years with Polly’s patent.

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Random Facts Dump

I keep a text file on my desktop with random facts I pull from the Internet. I always figure I’ll use them later on this site. They’ve been building up for a while now, so let me go ahead and dump them here:

– The 2006 independent film Zyzzyx Road is the lowest grossing American film of all time. Starring Leo Grillo, Katherine Heigl and Tom Sizemore, it officially earned $30 at the box office. In reality it actually only earned $20, because Grillo refunded the $5 ticket price to makeup artist Sheila Moore and a friend.

– In the 1984 presidential election, Ronald Reagan won every state except Minnesota… and he only lost that state (Walter Mondale’s home) by 3,761 votes!

– The British band Madness’ first 20 singles all made the Top 20 in the UK charts. In fact, from 1980 to 1986, there was a Madness single in the British charts in 214 out of 312 possible weeks. That’s staggering.

– Songwriting credits for Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” were credited to “Vincent Ford”, a longtime friend of Marley’s and the owner of a soup kitchen. Marley’s act insured that his friend (and his soup kitchen) would be financially stable for life.

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$1 trillion deficit!

WASHINGTON Reuters – The U.S. budget deficit almost hit $1 trillion during the first six months of this fiscal year which began on October 1, according to estimates released on Monday by the Congressional Budget Office.

The government likely recorded $953 billion in red ink from October through March including $290 billion for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, which was to provide much-needed cash to struggling financial institutions, the CBO said.

Receipts during the six-month period dropped about $160 billion, or 14 percent, over the same period in fiscal 2008. Nearly half of the drop, $73 billion, came from a fall in corporate income tax receipts.

A trillion dollars. And no one is saying a word about it!

via U.S. deficit nearly $1 trillion in first half of FY2009.

Quote of the Day

Queen Elizabeth’s speech to her troops at Tilbury, on the eve of the Spanish Armada (and their intended invasion of England):

My loving people, we have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

SONGS I LOVE: “Little Bit”

Most of my friends (especially Scott) know that I will sometimes find a new song that I like and listen to it over and over and over and over again.

The latest tune in my “endless loop” is Swedish pop star Lykke Li’s 2008 song “Little Bit” – specifically, a remix of the song by LA wondertwins The Villans. I discovered the remix last week, and have listened to it at least 100 times so far.

A popular indie music site described Lykke Li’s music as “a mix of soul, electro and powdered-sugar pop”. The original version is pretty good, but this remix is absolutely infectious!

Have a listen:


More Shuffle Stupidity

I’ve been knocking the new 3G iPod Shuffle pretty hard lately, and now there’s word that there’s yet another problem with Apple’s diminutive music player.

It appears that the player’s controller (which was moved to the headphone cord) is not water-resistant, so when people workout with it, sweat trickles in and causes all sorts of problems, from the volume maxing itself out to the Shuffle ceasing to operate completely. Word is that simply letting the player dry out completely “fixes” the problem, and at least one user has said that Apple wants to take a look at his player to further investigate the problem. This thread at the Apple support forums has the complete details.

If true, this is a hilarious black eye for Apple, because the Shuffle is supposed to be the “iPod for working out”, right?

Good job, Cupertino!

Giants release Burress

No surprise here – the Giants got rid of Plexiglass. He’s an awesome player, but apparently a horrible human being. This (and not money) is why the Steelers got rid of him back in 2004(?).

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The New York Giants released Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress on Friday, a little more than four months after the talented but troubled wide receiver accidentally shot himself in the thigh in a New York City nightclub.

Burress’ four-year tenure with the Giants was highlighted by a game-winning touchdown catch in the Super Bowl against the previously undefeated New England Patriots in February 2008, but it also was dogged by fines and suspensions.

via Giants release Burress 4 months after shooting.

Jim Cofer: Now on Twitter

As you might have noticed from the “Twitter Updates” posts below, I have now joined Twitter!

I don’t have much of an interest in Twitter itself (it seems to me like Facebook for people with really short attention spans), but I thought I might as well join up and get some two-way communication going between Twitter and my blog. Thanks to a WordPress plug-in called Twitter Tools, new posts on this blog are automatically entered into Twitter. I opted out of posting a daily “Twitter Roundup” on my site, going instead for a “weekly digest” of all my tweets.

If you want to follow me (or this blog) on Twitter, go here: