What Were Mark Twain's Inventions?

The famous American author also had an entrepreneurial streak

Mark Twain talks about the way to an ideal life.
Mark Twain lists a sleepy conscience as one of the joys of life. Hulton Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images

In addition to being a famous author and humorist, Mark Twain was an inventor with several patents to his name.

The author of such classic American novels as "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," Twain's patent for the "Improvement in Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments" has become ubiquitous in modern clothing: most bras use the elastic band with hooks and clasps to secure the garment in the back.

 

Mark Twain, Inventor of the Bra Strap

Twain (real name Samuel Langhorne Clemens) received his first patent (#121,992) for the garment fastener on December 19, 1871. The strap was intended to be used to tighten shirts at the waist and was supposed to take the place of suspenders. 

Twain envisioned the invention as a removable band that could be used on multiple garments to make them fit more snugly. The patent application reads that the device could be used for "vests, pantaloons or other garments requiring straps." 

The item never really caught on in the vest or pantaloon market (vests have buckles to tighten them, and pantaloons have gone the way of the horse and buggy). But the strap became a standard item for brassieres and is still used in the modern era. 

Twain's Other Patents for Inventions

Twain received two other patents: one for a self-pasting scrapbook (1873), and one for a history trivia game (1885).

His scrapbook patent was particularly lucrative. According to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper, Twain made $50,000 from sales of the scrapbook alone. In addition to the three patents known to be associated with Mark Twain, he financed a number of inventions by other inventors, but these were never successful and he lost a great deal of money.

Twain's Failed Investments

Perhaps the biggest flop of Twain's investment portfolio was the Paige typesetting machine. He paid several hundred thousand dollars on the machine, but was never able to get it to work correctly; it broke down constantly. And in a stroke of bad timing, as Twain was trying to get the Paige machine up and running, the far superior linotype machine came along

Twain also had a publishing house that was (surprisingly) unsuccessful as well. Charles L. Webster and Company publishers printed a memoir by President Ulysses S. Grant, which saw some success. But its next publication, a biography of Pope Leo XII was a flop.

Twain and Bankruptcy

Even though his books enjoyed commercial success, Twain was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy because of these questionable investments. He set off on a worldwide lecturing/reading tour in 1895 that included Australia, New Zealand, India, Ceylon and South Africa to pay off his debts (even though the terms of his bankruptcy filing did not require him to do so). 

Mark Twain was fascinated by inventions, but his enthusiasm was also his Achilles' heel. He lost a fortune on inventions, which he was sure would make him rich and successful.

Even though his writing was what became his lasting legacy, every time a woman puts on her bra, she has Mark Twain to thank.