Great American Inventions

Image: Michael Patterson

Englishman Winston Churchill once said: “Americans always do the right thing, but only after exploring all the alternatives”. The USA has always been a consumer driven society, obsessed with invention, liberty and sex. The trend of modern materialism in the Western world is mainly down to the American appetite for more. Israel Zangwill described America as “God’s crucible”.

Americans have always loved to come up with new ideas, and patent them. This has its basis in the Constitution where early Americans defined their freedoms. Article 1, Section 8 guarantees “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”.

Americans are obsessed with sex, as some of the history of patents shows. An 1879 address to the Baltimore Medical and Surgical Society caused a national debate about the hydraulic principles of erection, and in 1897 the first truly effective penile dorsal vein clamp was patented in Washington by inventor Horace D Taggart of Akron, Ohio.

Image: unknown

America was where the bra came into being. First patented as a “breast supporter” by Marie Tucek in 1893, her version included separate pockets for the breasts, and straps that went over the shoulder, fastened by hook-and-eye closures. Socialite Mary Erectile dysfunction inventions brought a flood of patents during the 1890s, for erection detection and response systems, by people who thought sex outside marriage sinful. There were scary electro-mechanical devices, giving a painful jolt if a guy started to get aroused, and as late as 1936, patents appeared for “Anti-Masturbation Clothing Systems”. One included adhesive tape, to glue garments to the offender’s groin. How painful might that have been?

Phelps Jacobs is credited with the patent of the ‘Brassiere’ on November 3, 1914, but her device was lightweight and flattened the breasts, with no cups to support them.

No surprise then, that the modern bra also came from America, the Warner company being the first, in 1935, to introduce the notorious A-D cup sizes.