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Otto Titzling

The über-sad story of Otto Titzling, unsung inventor of the modern brassiere

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Otto Titzling

Brassiere

George Marks / Getty Images

The inventor of the modern foundation garment that we women wear today was a German scientist and opera lover by the name of Otto Titsling! This is a true story...

— "Otto Titsling," lyrics by Bette Midler


COMMEMORATED IN popular song, trivia, and cautionary tale, the tortuous history of Otto Titzling (a.k.a. Titsling, Titslinger, Titzlinger) and the invention of the modern brassiere has a lesson to teach us all — though not necessarily the one you might expect.

As the story goes, Otto Titzling, a German immigrant living in New York City circa 1912, was employed at a factory making women's undergarments when he met an aspiring opera singer named Swanhilda Olafsen. Miss Olafsen, a buxom woman by all accounts, complained to Titzling that the standard corsets in use at the time were not only uncomfortable to wear but failed to provide adequate support where it counted most.

Titzling rose to the challenge. With the help of his trusty assistant, Hans Delving, he set about inventing a new kind of undergarment specifically engineered to meet the needs of the modern woman. The "chest halter" he designed proved to be a brilliant innovation and a commercial success, but our hero neglected to take out a patent, an oversight that would haunt him for the rest of his days.

Otto Titzling vs. Philippe de Brassiere

Enter the flamboyant, French-born fashion designer Philippe de Brassiere, who began ripping off Otto Titzling's designs and manufacturing competing products in the early 1930s. Titzling sued de Brassiere for patent infringement. In a court battle lasting four years, the two men fought to prove ownership of the concept, facing off in a climactic courtroom "fashion show" in which live models paraded before the judge wearing prototypes by each designer. In the end Titzling lost the case, not only in the court of law but in the court of public opinion, where de Brassiere, with his knack for self-promotion, managed to cement in the public's mind a lasting connection between the product and his own name.

In the words of songstress Bette Midler, "The result of this swindle is pointedly clear — do you buy a titsling or do you buy a brassiere?"

Titzling died penniless and unappreciated, we are told. But nothing could be further from the truth.

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