The unwritten history of the American Saf-t-Bra

    My friend Al Hoff in Pittsburgh shared this with me today, and I thought that I’d pay it forward by sharing it with you. According to Al, who you might know better as the woman behind the zine empire once known as Thrift Score, the photo was snapped in a Reading, PA art space called GoggleWorks. Years ago, it would seem, the building housing the gallery used to be home to the Willson Safety factory, which produced helmets, goggles, and other forms of safety gear, like the heavy-duty plastic boob shield you see above.

    I’ve been spending the last hour, looking for information on the Saf-t-Bra… hopeful of finding at least one article about a nipple that was saved in a bottling line mishap… but, so far, I’ve been unsuccessful. I can’t even determine what became of the company. I’ve found one relatively recent reference to a Wilson Safety Products in Reading, but I haven’t been able to substantiate it. I’m thinking about sending a letter to the address tomorrow on official letterhead, asking form more information on the Saf-t-Bra. If I get a response, I’ll print it here. (I know it’s likely that none of you care, but the international oil services corporation Schlumberger also seems to have a Wilson Safety subsidy, so I suppose that the company could have been acquired at some point. Or, it could be a different company altogether. Regardless, my guess is that all of their products are now made in China… I’d like to stop looking for clues as to what happened to the Reading company, but my OCD won’t let me.)

    It’s times like these, I regret not getting my PhD, and becoming a professor of American Studies somewhere. I’m confident that there’s a book in the history of the Saf-t-Bra.

    Oh, and I’d appreciate it if, one of these days, someone would remind me to interview Al about her ongoing quest to participate in each Project Runway challenge at home, constructing outfits for her Barbie doll.

    update: OK, I found an image of a breast protection device in use. This version, though, which has a clearly different design, may not have been produced by Wilson. [This photo, which comes courtesy of the National Archives, is from what, during the second World War, was called the Women’s Bureau.]

    update: Fortunately, research in the area of safety bras did not end with the World War II. Here’s video evidence.

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      1. TC
        Posted August 3, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        I love the fact that people were so frightened at the time by the idea of women doing “men’s” jobs. Like they were worried that their boobs would somehow get into the machinery, and that their periods would render them unable to rivet aircraft wings.

      2. Edward
        Posted August 3, 2011 at 8:06 am | Permalink

        Not to but crude, but you are familiar, I take it, with the phrase “tit in a wringer.”

      3. Al Hoff by proxy
        Posted August 3, 2011 at 8:13 am | Permalink

        Mark, the Willson company was bought in late 1990s, then almost went out of biz, then 9/11 needed respirators, then in 2002, closed again. The second company may still be in biz, but if so, stuff is made elsewhere, and not in Reading. (I didn’t really read ALL the signs in mini-museum.)

      4. Mr. X
        Posted August 3, 2011 at 8:26 am | Permalink

        It’s hard for me to hear the phrase “tit in a wringer” and not think of Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell, and his famous quote to reporter Carl Bernstein about Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post.

        Mitchell exploded with an exclamation of “JEEEEEEESUS,” so violent that Carl felt it was “some sort of primal scream” and thought Mitchell might die on the telephone. After he’d read him the first two paragraphs, Mitchell interrupted, still screaming, “All that crap, you’re putting it in the paper? It’s all been denied. Katie Graham … is gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”

      5. Steve Swan
        Posted August 3, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        Thank you for the new fetish.

      6. Edward Vielmetti
        Posted August 3, 2011 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

        A search through Google Books puts the introduction of the Saf-T-Bra at 1943-1944.

        “SAF-T-BRA — Willson Products, Inc., Reading, Pa. The device is made of plastic and provides protection for breasts of women workers.”

      7. Posted August 3, 2011 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

        If someone gets me one, I will totally wear it to the next Krampus party.

      8. Savannah Kzykowski
        Posted September 6, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        I’ve always said that bras should be hard! This is INCREDIBLE!

      9. Rev 6
        Posted July 8, 2013 at 4:05 am | Permalink

        Men are stupid. Clearly they thought that women, if put on the factory floor, would be riveting their tits to sides of airplanes.

      2 Trackbacks

      1. […] small, medium and large: brassiere sizes 30 to 38, 39 to 44, and 45 to 48, respectively. The unwritten history of the American Saf-t-Bra a thread from the edge: A Field Trip to […]

      2. By Your Grandma Wore A Plastic Bra During WWII on October 11, 2013 at 9:20 am

        […] 1940s. There’s not much historical information on the Saf-T-Bra, at least not according to blogger Mark Maynard‘s research, so there’s no way to know how many women actually wore this kind of armored lingerie. […]

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