Celebrity Invention: Mark Twain's Elastic-Clasp Brassiere Strap

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for celebrityinvention.jpgSome celebrities aren't just pretty faces. A few of them are also touched with that Yankee prowess for tinkering and invention. In this weekly series, we introduce you to the Patents of the Rich and Famous. And maybe you learn a little bit about how patent literature works along the way.

Inventor: Samuel Clemens a.k.a Mark Twain

Known For: Mark Twain has a special place in The Atlantic's collective heart. Before he wrote the classroom favorite, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain penned works for this very publication. In an 1874 letter to then editor-in-chief William Dean Howells, Twain discusses the special Atlantic-Twain bond: "The Atlantic audience is the only audience that I sit down before with perfect serenity (for the simple reason that it don't require a 'humorist' to paint himself stripèd and stand on his head every fifteen minutes)."

Not only did our alum write some of the most enduring prose of his time, but he was also an inventor. We discussed his patent for a scrapbooking technique in this space a few months back, but Twain had other non-literary interests too.

Like, the ladies.

Invented Apparatus: "Improvement in adjustable and detachable straps for garments"

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It's an elastic strap with a clasp, which holds together loose garments:

The nature of my invention consists in an adjustable and detachable elastic strap for vests, pantaloons, or other garments requiring straps as will be hereinafter more fully set forth.

While the literature claims the patent is most useful for "vests, pantaloons or other garments requiring straps," how many pantaloons do you see with elastic straps held together by clasps these days? This clever invention only caught on for one snug garment: the bra. For those with little brassiere experience, not a button, nor a snap, but a clasp is all that secures that elastic band, which holds up women's breasts. So not-so-dexterous ladies and gents, you can thank Mark Twain for that.

Rationale Behind Invention:  Twain intended for the strap to migrate from garment to garment, holding together any ill-fitting piece of clothing:

The vest pantaloons or other garment upon which my strap is to be used should be provided with buttons or other fastenings on which the strap is to be detachable and adjusted. When changing garments the strap may readily be detached from one and put on another. The advantages of such an adjustable and detachable elastic strap are so obvious that they need no explanation.

Twain doesn't even feel the need to explain the utility behind his invention. He claims the advantages of having a stretchy strap for any item is "so obvious that they need no explanation." Well, Twain, if it were "so obvious" I'd be carrying a Twain clasp strap around in my purse, wouldn't I?

Off-Label Uses:  We can imagine an elastic-clasp strap might be useful for storing illicit things beneath your clothing, like guns. Or flasks.

Future Directions: We should refocus and bring this invention back to where Twain intended it to be: "vests, pantaloons or other garments requiring straps." Just think: Stretchy pants with clasps.

Peruse more Celebrity Inventions.

Presented by

Rebecca Greenfield is a former staff writer at The Wire.

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