Is it possible to explore history and art through the study of something as ubiquitous and mundane as the coat hanger? A utilitarian artifact of human design?
While cleaning out our closets I discovered some vintage clothes hangers with aesthetic appeal and a story to tell. A wooden hanger stamped with the name of the Versailles Hotel in Miami Beach (“On the Ocean at 35th Street”) is, I suspect, a souvenir from my in-laws 1940s honeymoon trip to Florida, a memorable event immortalized by a plague of Palmetto Bugs…
Image: Courtesy of Florida Memory State Library & Archives of Florida. http://dlis.dos.state.fl.us/
Who Invented The Coat Hanger? Today’s wire coat hanger was inspired by a clothes hook patented in 1869, by O. A. North of New Britain, Connecticut. Albert J. Parkhouse, an employee of Timberlake Wire and Novelty Company in Jackson, Michigan, created a coat hanger in 1903, in response to co-workers’ complaints of too few coat hooks. He bent a piece of wire into two ovals with the ends twisted together to form a hook. Parkhouse patented his invention, but it is not known if he profited from it.
Another hanger taken from our closet, of smooth varnished wood in that familiar flattened bell-curve design, has a wooden dowel suspended by twisted wire to hold the matching pants to a man’s suit jacket: “Look for the Kuppenheimer Label”. Decades ago a suit designed by the House of Kuppenheimer decorated this very hanger.
In 1991, an exhibition titled “Out of the Closet: American Hangers” was held at the Ricco-Maresca Gallery, 105 Hudson Street near Franklin Street in TriBeCa. The exhibition exhibited antique hangers from the collection of Harris Diamant:
These are not the kind the dry cleaning comes on. These are hangers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Hangers to be proud of. Shaker hangers. Old-fashioned collapsible travel hangers. Hangers for blocking sweaters on. Even the wire hangers are esthetically pleasing enough that Joan Crawford might have allowed a few into her closets. (Then again, maybe not.)
Clothes hangers do indeed possess aesthetic appeal. Check out these contemporary examples:
This year, Great American Hanger Co. sent out its first consumer mail-order catalog; sales are projected to reach $10 million, up from $7.5 million in 2006. The Hanger Project, a year-old retailer, recently placed a wholesale order for 10,000 hangers; it’s first, last fall. was for 800 Premium hangers boast details like extrawide shoulders, flocked, nonslip trouser bars, a range of widths to accommodate different suit sizes, and a variety of finishes to match your closet. Oh, and they cost as much as $35. Each. Via
Finally, there’s the hanger that comes from the Renew’ry dry cleaners at 2430 Jerome Ave. in the Bronx (“For QUALITY Dry Cleaning or Pressing, Phone SED 3-2737″). Another family heirloom. The wooden hanger holds its own aesthetic appeal, smooth to the touch, black-inked letters pressed into the wood.
Stories: Collecting Old Clothes Hangers
Image credit: The House of Kuppenheimer, 1906. “Courtesy of The New York Public Library. http://www.nypl.org”