Who Invented the Bra

thinking about bras

To ask the question, "Who invented the bra?" is kind of like asking, "Who invented the wheel."

There were numerous people all at the same time that had the idea, so if you're looking for a quick answer because you're playing Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? then I hope you're a speed reader because the answer may be found at the end of this page ;)

Herminie Cadolle of France 1889.

Life Magazine credits her as the inventor of the first modern bra so obviously she is someone worth mentioning.

According to Life magazine, in 1889 Herminie Cadolle of France invented the first modern bra. (For the life of me I couldn't find a picture of 'ol Herminie anywhere so you'll just have to imagine what she looks like. I like to picture a sweet, old woman that looks like Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith Show, but that's just me.)

Cadolle's bra appeared in a corset catalogue as a two-piece undergarment. Her garment effectively cut the traditional corset in two.

The lower part was a corset for the waist, the upper supporting the breasts by means of shoulder straps. Her description reads "designed to sustain the bosom and supported by the shoulders".

illustration of early bra
Mata Hari

The company, still family-owned, claims today that Herminie 'freed women by inventing the first Bra.' She also introduced the use of "rubberthread." That would be elastic, for all you non-sewers out there.

Herminie became a fitter of bras to queens, princesses, dancers, and actresses. Mata Hari (pictured with the yellow dress) was among her customers.

Interesting sidenote that has nothing to do with who invented the bra: Mata Hari's real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. She was a famous exotic dancer/performer in the early 1900's who refused to be seen without a bra because she was self-conscious about her small breasts. She traveled extensively during World War 1 and was arrested and later executed as a spy for Germany in 1917 at the age of 41.

Marie Tucek - 1893
Almost famous for inventing the bra

illustration of bra from Marie Tucek

In 1893, Marie Tucek patented a device that consisted of separate pockets for each breast and shoulder straps fastened by hook-and-eye. She called her invention 'The Breast Supporter'. This invention more closely resembled the modern bra known today. Unfortunately she never successfully marketed it and is therefore not known as the person who invented the bra.

I'll bet her posterity gathers gathers for the annual family reunion and laments grandma's lack of business sense.They could have been rich!

Do Men Know "Breast"?

When it comes to the invention of the bra, there are several men who definitely wanted a slice of the pie. I guess it just makes sense that men would naturally be interested in everything 'boobie'.

Henry Lesher

Henry S. Lesher of Brooklyn, New York patented a bra-like device in 1859.

However, I will bet my sports bra that this man never tried on his invention.

It is convoluted, confusing, and very uncomfortable looking. AND it comes with (and I quote from the patent) "ARM PIT SHIELDS"! Because you never know when your armpits might need shielding from the occasional arrow or misdirected rock. (I added that last part, it wasn't in his patent)

Do you think his wife ever got sick of trying it on for him? I can imagine a daily discussion at their house going something like this...

"Hey honey! Just try this on one more time, I think I've got it!"

"No Henry! That thing is awful, I'd rather tuck my breasts in my waistband than wear that dang invention of yours! Why couldn't you just be a farmer or something practical instead of spending all day studying women's boobs. My mother was right! You are nothing but a pervert!"

"...So you won't try it on?"

Luman L. Chapman

illustration of early bra with breast pillows

I mentioned earlier that Life Magazine named Herminie Cadolle as the person who invented the bra. However, Discover Magazine says Luman L Chapman is who invented the bra. Obviously someone is wrong, but who am I to pick sides? Maybe they could flip a coin or something.

In 1863, Luman L. Chapman of Camden, NJ, patented a corset substitute with breast puffs and shoulder-brace straps that tied in back.

Breast Puffs! LOL! I guess it's better then 'Breast Balls'.

Did Mary Give Victoria Her Secret?

Mary Phelps Jacob

Before Victoria had a secret, Mary had a problem.

Nineteen year old Mary Phelps Jacob was attending a ball and the dress she wanted to wear looked awful with a corset underneath. So with the help of her French maid Mary fashioned a bra out of handkerchiefs and ribbon.

first bra made out of a handkerchief

Sidenote (not related to who invented the bra): If you ever have an extra hour and want to read about someone with a wild and crazy life, check out the biography of Mary Phelps Jacob on Wikipedia (she's also known as Caresse Crosby). Wowee. That's all I can say about her.

Mary filed a patent for her brassiere in 1914 and this is when most bra historians (all 3 of them:) agree as the year the modern bra was introduced to society.

Mary ran a small business making 'bras' for mostly friends and family members. Bra Business wasn't for her and in a couple years she sold her patent to Warner Brothers for $1,500.00.

No! Not those Warner Brothers. I'm talking about a different set of brothers. These guys made bras, not movies, and they made them very well. Over the next 30 years they made over 15 million dollars.

If you want to research more about Bra History...

So you've learned more about the people who invented the bra, but maybe you'd like to learn a little bit more. Well good news! I've written a couple more pages about the history of the bra - you should check them out!

Move backwards in time from who invented the bra to the early history of the bra where I will take you all the way back to the earliest known form of 'breast support' in 2500 BC and carry you through 300 AD, including early Chinese bras.

My second bra history page will pick up during the Roman Empire, through the invention of the corset in the 19th century.