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Check out the excellent article titled The Invention of the Bra.  this is another give Mary Phelps Jacobs the credit story, although Marie Tucek is mentioned.  Excellent links and photographs can be found here.

For more information on the correlation between bras and breast cancer, check out these sites:

R. L. Reed, Ph.D. has prepared an excellent summary of this possible problem titled Bras and Breast Cancer.

Panati's Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things by Charles Panati (1987, Harper and Row, Publishers) offers a nice summary on the history of the brassiere.

For some really unusual reading, be sure to check out the book American Sex Machines by Hoag Levins (1996, Adams Media Corporation). It is a summary of patents filed in the United States Patent Office for sexual type devices. An entire chapter is devoted to the history of the bra. Both the images of Mary Jacob's brassiere (16k) and Marie Tucek's breast supporter (16k) have been scanned in from this book.

The death by lightning story comes from the book Strange Days #1 compiled by the Fortean Times (1996, Cader Company). The book cites all of its sources, but I would question the authenticity of many of these (including this one), as many are of the National Enquirer type.

It can really kill you!

Throughout the history of humans, the woman's body has been squeezed and contorted into many different forms. 

The breasts are certainly no exception. 

The female bust has gone in and out of style many times (even more times than John Travolta). At times it has been minimized to be hidden from view. At others, it has been maximized to the fullest extent. 

For instance, if we take a look back to 2500 B.C., we will find that the Minoan women that lived on the Greek isle of Crete actually wore a bra-like garment that actually lifted their bare breasts out of their clothes. 

Years later, ancient Roman and Greek women took the opposite approach. They actually strapped on a breast band to reduce their bust size. 

But where did the modern bra come from? And how can it actually kill? 

Let's find out: 

As pointed out above, there have been many types of garments that have appeared over the centuries to help enhance the human form. 

Many authors claim that the bra was invented by one Otto Titzling. However, it turns out that this story first appeared in the book Bust Up: The Uplifting Tale of Otto Titzling by Wallace Reyburn (the same guy that wrote the humorous book that describes how Thomas Crapper invented the toilet). The book claims that Titzling invented the bra with the help of his assistant Hans Delving in 1912. They designed the bra for a Swedish athlete named Lois Lung. Titzling then sued a Frenchman named Phillipe de Brassiere for patent infringement in the 1930's. As you can see from these names, the story is probably pure fiction (especially since, as we will see below, Mary Phelps Jacobs takes credit for the first documented use of the name brassiere in 1914). 

If you check most current literature, you will find the following story: 

The first modern bra was invented by a New York socialite named Mary Phelps Jacob way back in 1913 (I'm sure that a lot of women want to believe that a man invented this torturous device, but it was a woman). 

Mary had just purchased a sheer evening gown for one of her social events that poor people like myself will never get to attend. 

She had a problem. 

At that time, corsets that were stiffened with whaleback bones were the accepted undergarment. Unfortunately, whaleback corsets and sheer evening gowns just don't go together well. 

In one of those great flashes of genius, Mary came up with a great solution. Together with her French maid Marie, Mary took two handkerchiefs, ribbon, and some cord and devised a simple backless brassiere. 

We can be fairly sure that Mary was the hit of the party, but the real hit was her newfangled brassiere among the women in attendance. 

Mary was very happy to sew up a bra for all family and friends that were interested. I guess you could say that she started the currently male dominated tradition of giving sexy underwear for those special holidays. 

One day, she received a request for one of her contraptions from a stranger, who had happened to enclose a dollar for her efforts. 

Mary Jacobs ran to the patent office with her sketches. In November, 1914, she was awarded a patent for the "Backless Brassiere". 

Mary made several hundred of the devices (marketed under the name Caresse Crosby), but due to lack of publicity, the business collapsed. 

One would think that this would have been the end of the bra, but it managed to live on. 

Mary sold the rights to the brassiere to the Warner Brothers Corset Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut for a mere $1500. Just think how much money that would be worth today. 

This sounds like a great story, and is almost entirely true, except for the fact that Mary Jacobs did not invent the first bra. Her design was simply the first one to be widely used. 

It seems that a man named Hoag Levins had too much time on his hands and did an in depth study of all the sexual devices ever patented by the United States Patent Office. In the book American Sex Machines, Levins presents quite a few patents on bra-type creations. 

Levins' conclusion is that a woman named Marie Tucek patented the first brassiere in 1893. This "breast supporter", as she called it, looked very similar to the modern brassiere. The device included separate pockets for the breasts, straps that went over the shoulder which were fastened by hook-and-eye closures. 

In comparison, Mary Phelps Jacobs device was patented on November 3, 1914 and was called a "brassiere". She may have had the name correct, but she didn't have the design. Her patent was for a device that was lightweight and flattened the breasts. Her bra did not have cups to support the breasts. 

Of course, many innovations were later made to the brassiere: use of elastic, standard cup sizes, and the development of the strapless bra. 

During the 1920's, the flat chested "flappers" that my grandmother always reminisces about were all the rage. A Russian immigrant named Ida Rosenthal decided to buck the trend. With the help of her husband William, they founded Maidenform. Ida was responsible for grouping women into bust size categories (cup sizes) and developed bras for every stage of life (puberty to maturity). 

Of course, the 1960's was famous for its bra-burnings. One would think that this would have been the end of the bra, but it wasn't. Gravity and aging were on the side of the brassiere manufacturers. 

The bra has made a great comeback ever since. 

We have the Wonderbra. The 18 hour bra. Cross your heart (and hope to die?) bras. Training bras (training for what?). Jogging bras. Dangerous breast implants that need added support. Madonna walking around in her underwear. Victoria's Secret (she's not very good at keeping her secret - everyone seems to know about it). 

So what about bras killing you? (I thought this would get your attention). 

In the 1994 book Dressed to Kill by Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijerin, they suggested that wearing bras may inhibit the normal function of the lymphatic system in and around the breast. The result is a decreased removal of toxins from the breast and an increased occurrence of breast cancer. 

Based on a sample of 4,730 women, they concluded that women that go braless have a 21 times less chance of developing cancer. 

The study was torn apart by critics because the authors failed to incorporate the lifestyles (smoking, alcohol, exercise, weight, etc.) of the women into their results. However, it does bring up some good questions. 

To end this little discussion on brassieres, I thought that I would mention one documented case of death by a bra. 

It seems that a woman named Berbel Zumner was killed at age 23 while walking through a park in Vienna. You see, Berbel was one of those women that many refer to as "well endowed". She wore a bra with metal underwire to support her ample frame. As we all know, metal wire and lightning just don't go together. As a result, Berbel was zapped and killed. 

They better start putting warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General on these contraptions. 

Useless?  Useful?  I’ll leave that for you to decide.

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