Garter inventor

Farm Forum

In the 1890s, Civil War vet and Brookings County official W. H. Cornell had an idea that would, in a manner of speaking, not knock your socks off.

Actually, his invention held them up.

He devised an ingenious garter fastener, and produced a slew of them in a Brookings factory.

Most of the garters then were worn by the distaff side.

That’s because in those days, most men were a rather slovenly bunch what with rubbing shoulders with slobbering, smelly animals, bath water at a premium, and tobacco juice roiling in profusion before being spewed helter-skelter with reckless abandon.

In fact, at the many town post offices, a shallow wooden box of sawdust was intended to encourage the proper disposal of chaw-backky juice. Alas, the aim of hurried men lacking bifocals and bereft of suavity of any kind, gave the walls and wooden floor of post offices a look of splattered pandemonium.

Most men had more on their minds than drooping socks and Jim Dandy garter fasteners.

Women, on the other hand, were as prim and proper as one could be in our frontier town with their dirt and manure-dusted streets, igneous hard well water and backyard menageries.

The ladies spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning, cooking and darning men’s sagging socks. At day’s end they might find time for warming squeeze-apart curling irons on the glass chimneys of kerosene lamps to press a curly crimp in their rainwater washed hair.

And the other thing that women required more than men were garters, although some men—mostly lightening rod salesmen, lawyers and land agents in pointy-toed shoes who cut the ends off their cigars with a pearl-handled cigar end cutter—wore garters, too.

The fastener in vogue at the time was a button and hook affair. In fact, a football play was named after the device. It’s still used occasionally on the gridiron.

The button and hook fastener had one drawback. The bulbous button showed through the dress about mid-thigh. So when a woman sat down, it appeared she had a lump on each leg.

Brookings entrepreneur W. H. Cornell set out to do something about that.

Six women worked at the Cornell Garment and Hose Support Company, turning out about 600 fasteners a day.

To understand the fastener and how it worked, picture the letters “O” and “M.” The fastener had two parts, both made of flat metal.

The part of the fastener holding the hosiery was shaped like the letter “O.” The other part of the fastener on the garter belt was “M” shaped, inverted.

The “O” and the stocking hooked over the middle part of the inverted letter “M.”

Leg lumps vanished.

Then along came elastic, and the Cornell Garment and Hose Support Company snapped, careening off into oblivion.

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