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Who Invented Hangers?


A man in a jacket looking at the men’s patterned blazers lined up on black, elegant hangers in a store

Who Invented Hangers?

Clothes hangers serve a purpose as simple as their design. At the same time, this seemingly basic item changed the way we live and our culture to a great extent. Some people rarely give much thought to the origin of their wardrobe assistants and don’t even have the idea about who invented hangers.

Yet, some of us praise the loving support hangers provide to our prized possessions. There’s so much to acknowledge about this humble but revolutionary item – the embodiment of human intelligence, ingenuity, creativity, and progress. Most of us wouldn’t think hangers have their own secrets but they do – and here’s what has been happening behind our grand-mothers and grand-fathers’ wardrobe doors two centuries ago.

The Pen of the Revolution

Thomas Jefferson, our founding father, was a great diplomat, statesman, philosopher, and architect. However, many of us don’t know he nurtured that seed of revolution far beyond politics. According to some historians, Sage of Monticello holds credit as the inventor of the very first clothes hanger.

We are not talking about the type of hangers we use today but an old-fashioned space-saving item. Supposedly, Tommy came up with an idea so he could store clothes in his home in Monticello more conveniently.

The original idea and a precursor to the modern hanger was a clothes rack or a “turning-machine” rather than a hanger. We can thank the third president of the United States for inventing such a useful thing the future creative generations brought to perfection. Here is how they did it.

O.A. North

Who invented hangers similar to those we use today? The hook-styled hanger was invented by O.A. North back in 1860 (1869 to be precise). The general consensus approves this, a more modern version of a hanger as the original. However, we can’t ignore the fact the first man ever who got this idea was Tommy.

North made a wire hanger with a twist that joined together two narrow ovals and a hook. This version was quite alike a standard wire hanger. It featured conjoined ovals instead of a triangle. Basically, we are still using the hanger model from the 19 century.

The time when coat hangers became ‘’official” was the time after the Industrial Revolution. Such a perfect time for a subtle marketing campaign, right? People living in this period associated coat hangers with unions, which brought them even more popularity.

Albert J. Parkhouse, Schuyler C. Hullet, Gerhard Wieckmann, and J.H Batts

The question who invented hangers can go more into detail. Albert J. Parkhouse was an employee at Timberlake Wire and Novelty Company. The guy designed an even more modern hanger – the one that could be hung over a bar. This wire hanger with two shaped ovals twisted together was the closest to hangers we use today. Thanks to Albert and his hanger with a hook made it possible to store tons of clothes in one place.

However, although people were somehow happy with this model, some of them still wanted hangers to be more durable and stronger. This item still needed some perfecting. The new, revolutionary design incorporated timber as a rigid material. Instead of making the whole construction out of wire, the newest model of hangers at that time came with wire support struts only.

Schuyler C. Hulett noticed the wire parts on his hangers made his clothes wrinkly. He was looking for a way to support the clothing and minimize the creases. That’s how he came to an idea in 1932 – to cover the wire sections with cardboard tubes.

The next modern variant of a hanger saw the light of the day in 1965 when Gerhard Wiechmann introduced a new wooden frame. He used the Hulett’s idea as inspiration and went a step further by giving a hanger even more robustness.

Wiechmann believed cardboard tubes still caused wrinkling as these weren’t fixed. He designed a hanger with the wider wood shape that was more expensive than its predecessors but it prevented wrinkling even more and had a greater lifespan.

This patent, again, went through a series of improvements. The most important one was integrating moldable foam, which lowered the costs of hangers but kept wrinkling at a minimum.

Finally, J.H Batts found a magic formula in 1967. He patented affordable hangers made of molded plastic that was quite durable. This contoured design eliminated creasing and kept the natural shape of garments. It was strong enough to hold suits and jackets, sport coats, pants, etc.

Black hangers made of moulded plastic stored on the closet rod

 

Declining Interest in Hangers

Unfortunately, there came a moment when hangers went through a horrible phase. The excitement surrounding them was gone during the 1970s when no one was talking about who invented hangers but about, guess what? Abortions. Hangers were the most common symbol of illegal abortion procedures.

Even the thought of this terrible idea can make your stomach cramp, right? Some people prefer being in denial although the “coat hanger abortion” was a painfully real procedure.

This gruesome practice was mostly conducted in Texas, the state where abortion was prohibited. Then, in 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the statue and approved legal abortion in the legal case Roe vs Wade.  

Mommie Dearest contributed to spreading negative associations related to wire hangers. The story evolved around a mentally ill woman who was unable to conceive, which made her adopt several children. Then, as the story went on, Joan Crawford started expressing more symptoms of her obsessive-compulsive tendencies by using hangers (the symbol of abortion of that time) to scare and control her kids.

Although some interpreters tried to explain hangers triggered a trauma with females, the audience seemed to associate hangers with rather frightening and bizarre concepts instead of understanding the pressure put on women who weren’t able to conceive or those who tried to terminate their pregnancies this way.

People had an extremely negative perception of hangers during this whole decade. Some people still find wire hangers dangerous although more than 130 years passed from that awful period.

Repurposing the Hanger

Thank God the first retail stores understood the true potential and purpose hangers had. In the last decade of the 20th century, people have started seeing hangers in high-end stores.

Frank Maresca and his business partner, Rogger Rico, opened an exhibition in TriBeCa back in 1991. “Out of the Closet: American Hangers” was created with a clear goal in mind – to repurpose the hanger (or to give it its initial purpose back).

That was a unique kind of advertising hangers needed. These objects went through a lot until people stopped seeing them as ugly devices but actually solidarity items that could make their lives easier. From this period on, hangers were brought to the light again, and this organizing piece gained millions of fans around the world.

 Luckily, we here at redrO believe that hangers don't have to be boring, and are actually a staple of the closet. That's why we came out with a modern-looking hook built for guys, by guys.

clothing hanging on redro hangers

 

Summary

Although much overlooked at the beginning of the last century, hangers went through numerous twists until they became a well-loved item. Now that you know the whole story of Mr. Hanger and who invented hangers, we guess you will appreciate it more. This object has lived through the times that shaped the American nation, the Industrial Revolution, and bizarre propaganda. Luckily, the story about hanger is a happy ending as this item became a respected piece of material culture that stayed for the good.