The very first modern bra was introduced to the ladies of New York by Mary Phelps Jacob (1891 -1970), a prominent socialite.
Her primary concern was not comfort, bearing in mind corsets were still in vogue, but appearance. In 1913, in preparing to go to a swanky ball, she decided to buy an expensive evening gown. The sheer, thin fabric revealed the rigid lumps and bumps of her corset, so with the help of her maid she put together a bra made from two white handkerchiefs, a piece of pink ribbon and a piece of cord.
Female friends who admired this new device later received one as a gift. This trend snowballed and soon Mary Jacob was making dozens of bras, but not for money. It was a letter from a total stranger, containing a dollar bill and a request for “one of your contraptions” that prompted her to patent her design.
She then went into business with some of her friends and produced several hundred of these new fangled breast holders; but sadly her marketing skills proved rather poor and the venture soon stopped. The story does not end there though. A few months later whilst at a society event she was introduced to a man from the Warner Brothers Corset Company and sold the patent for fifteen hundred dollars.
In hindsight, not the greatest piece of business ever done. The bra patent has since been valued at more than a hundred million dollars.