Mary Phelps Jacob was a young New York socialite who at the age of 19 designed what she later called the "Backless Brassiere". The story is that in 1910 she had purchased a sheer evening gown for an debuntante's ball. Mary was dissatisfied with the way her corset looked under the dress, the whalebone was noticable due to the sheerness of the fabric and the plunging neckline. She asked her maid to fetch two silk handkerchiefs, some ribbon and cording, they stitched these together and the "Backless Brassiere" was created. At the ball she had many compliments for her creation and even requests for it. It was a light, soft and comfortable alternative to the corset and after receiving a request for one from a complete stranger Mary realized this could be a viable business venture.
On November 3,1914 Mary was issued the first patent for a bra in the United States. From there she started the Fashion Form Brassiere Company in Boston and employed women to manufacture her wireless bra the "Caresse Crosby". Her brassiere suited the new fashions at the time which was entering the era of the Flapper. It did not provide much support and actually flattened the breasts but it was lightweight, soft and seperated the breasts naturally. Soon afterwards she sold the patent to the Warner Brothers Corset Company for $1,500 who proceeded to use it to make millions over the next 30 years. It was a crucial alternative to the corset during WWI as it did not need ribbing and thus no metal. Warner manufactured the Crosby bra for awhile but it did not sell particularily well and eventually they discontinued it. They did however manage to build a huge business based on the ownership of the bra patent.
Mary said her brassiere was "well adapted to women of different sizes" and "so efficient that it may be worn by persons engaged in violent exercise like tennis."
Mary Phelps Jacob was an American patron of the arts, publisher and peace activist along with being an inventor which I will discuss in Part 2.