The Invention of the Coat Hanger

Albert J. Parkhouse Created a Coat Hanger in 1903

The modern coat hanger
Takuro Yokoyama / EyeEm / Getty Images

Today’s wire coat hanger was inspired by a clothes hook patented in 1869, by O. A. North of New Britain, Connecticut. But it wasn't until 1903 that Albert J. Parkhouse, an employee of Timberlake Wire and Novelty Company in Jackson, Michigan, created the device that we now know as the coat hanger 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.

In 1906, Meyer May, a men's clothier of Grand Rapids, Michigan, became the first retailer to display his wares on his wishbone-inspired hangers. Some of these original hangers can be seen at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Meyer May House in Grand Rapids.

Schuyler C. Hulett received a patent in 1932 for an improvement which involved cardboard tubes screwed onto the upper and lower portions to prevent wrinkles in freshly laundered clothes.

Three years later, Elmer D Rogers created a hanger with a tube on the lower bar which is still used today.

Thomas Jefferson invented the early wooden coat hanger, the hideaway bed, the calendar clock and the dumbwaiter.

More About Albert Parkhouse

Gary Mussell, great-grandson of Parkhouse, wrote this about his great-grandfather:

"Albert J. Parkhouse was a born tinkerer and inventor," his brother-in-law, Emmett Sargent, used to tell me when I was young. Albert was born in St. Thomas, Canada, just across the border from Detroit, Michigan, in 1879. His family migrated down to the town of Jackson when he was a boy, and it was there that he met and eventually married Emmett's older sister, Emma. Their daughter, Ruby, my grandmother, often told me he was 'quiet, modest, unassuming, and fun-loving to friends,' but that 'Mom was really the boss in the family.' Both Albert and Emma rose through the ranks to be leaders in the local Masons and Eastern Star organizations.

John B. Timberlake founded Timberlake & Sons, a small sole proprietorship, in 1880 and by the turn of the century, he had managed to collect several dozen enterprising inventor-type employees such as Parkhouse, who made wire novelties, lampshades, and other ubiquitous devices for their customer clients.

"If anything truly unique was developed by the individual employee," wrote Mussell, "Timberlake applied for a patent on it, and the company reaped whatever fame and reward that followed. It should be noted that this is a traditional employer-employee relationship in American business, and it is especially prevalent in late 19th Century firms, and even practiced by such well-known inventors as Thomas Edison, George Eastman, and Henry Ford."

Today's Coat Hangers

Today's coat hangers are made of wood, wire, and plastic, rarely from rubber substance and other materials. Some are padded with fine materials, such as satin, for expensive clothes. The soft, plush padding helps protect clothes from shoulder dents that wire hangers may make. A caped hanger is an inexpensive wire clothing hanger covered in paper. They are most often used by dry cleanersto protect clothes after cleaning.