As the year 1897 rolled into Boston, Massachusetts, the Industrial Revolution was booming. From commercial fisheries to a railway route that would allow travellers to journey from Boston to New York; Boston was the place to be. I had even heard whisperings of revolutionary automobiles that were to be powered by gasoline. Other rumours told of competing manufacturers in Europe sketching plans for another type of automobile that would be powered by electricity. Both of these advancements to the horse and carriage seemed ludicrous to me, more like something one would read in the science-fiction musings of Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
Despite these speculations about the future of road travel, it was evident that the Industrial Revolution would rapidly advance our present-day understandings of industry and technology. Yet, somehow, wherever one may take attendance, whether in their place of employment, at an event of societal prominence, or even in one’s own residence; there was always a shortage of coat hooks. When out in public, one would often have to fold their coats over a chair armrest. Whether travelling on a train or in a carriage, the coat would often be folded and placed on the seat next to the traveller. The creases were such a nuisance to straighten from the garments when it was necessary for the coats to be stored in such a fashion.
I often contemplated if there was a logical solution to this problem, as yet, to no avail. That is until I was in need of visiting Mr Seamus O’Bradain at the Boston Fish Pier fish market. Mr O’Bradain was an Irishman, who had relocated to Boston during the Great Irish Famine. He was a kindly, gentleman who was a skilled fisherman and had quickly settled into employment with the John Nagle Company. As the trawlers docked at the pier to unload their catch, Mr O’Bradain often manned the John Nagle Co. fish market stall. There would be carts of tuna and buckets containing a variety of shellfish and oysters. The larger-sized swordfish would hang from hooks along a steel bar situated just below the canopy of the stall.
I was of the culinary opinion, that there was nothing better to eat than a quality tuna steak, and was a regular patron of the fish market. Mr O’Bradain’s stall in particular. Not only a skilled fisherman, with the best quality tuna on offer, Mr O’Bradain was also a pleasant mannered gentleman to hold acquaintance with. It was on this particular day, I cycled up to Mr O’Bradain’s stall, as was customary of my routine visits, that I held the conversation of a lifetime.
“Good morning, Mr O’Bradain, how was the catch today?”
“Mr Rideout,” he greeted with a nod, “mostly shellfish. I presume you are in want of tuna as is your usual purchase?”
“Unfortunately, tuna was of short supply…wrong season, I suppose.” Mr O’Bradain gestured to a swordfish displayed on one of his hooks, “swordfish in these parts are just as delicious as the tuna; might take your fancy?”
I moved to inspect the fish offered to me, but on this occasion, something else demanded my attention. I could not believe my ignorance at not noticing the hook before! This indeed could be the solution to society’s coat hanging shortage!
“Mr O’Bradain! Your fish hooks!” I cried, shocking the poor man with my excitable outburst.
“Y-Yes, Mr Rideout,” he replied with uncertainty, “the hooks are needed to hang the swordfish on display?”
“My dear good sir, the fish is of insignificance in this moment of clarity!” I exclaimed. “Are your hooks, by chance, demountable? Might I inspect one you have spare?”
Mr O’Bradain obligingly dislodged one of his hooks and handed it to me. The hook was of similar design to the coat hook invented by Mr O. A. North a few years earlier in 1860. Over the seven and thirty years since, Mr North’s coat hook had rapidly increased in popularity across the United States of America. It was, however, these hooks that were in short supply despite their appearance in all locations of employment, recreation, or otherwise. As I stood there, in the fish market at the Boston Fish Pier of all places, rotating the fish display hook in my hands, a revolutionary idea was formed. The hook was positioned in the centre of a flat, steel plate. The appearance resembled that of a head, neck, and shoulders. I envisioned coats hanging from such a contraption, remaining uncreased; a conveniently transportable sized hanger.
“Mr O’Bradain,” I gasped. “What if every gentleman and lady could carry their own hook to hang their coats?!”
“Sir?” Mr O’Bradain was apparently more confused than ever.
I looked at his fisherman’s jacket, draped over one of his empty fish crates. I shuddered at the thought of the creases forming in the garment. “Have you ever found yourself short of a place to hang your coat?” Clearly, he had.
Mr O’Bradain followed my gaze to his jacket, “Yes?” His brows furrowed questioningly as he looked back to me.
There was no time to spare poor Mr O’Bradain with an explanation. I rushed away from the fish market, mounting and pushing off on my bicycle; peddling as fast as I could. I arrived at my Suffolk County townhouse. Dropping the bicycle as I dismounted, I hurried inside. I placed the fish display hook at the corner of my desk, still observing the hook’s specifications as I pulled out my inkwell and paper to draft a diagram of what I had envisioned.
Satisfied with my diagram, I then bent a length of wire into shape. Fashioning circular wire hinges set into the nape of the hanger. I held up my prototype. A hook with shoulder-shaped corners that could be folded to fit into a lady’s handbag or a gentleman’s briefcase: The Portable Coat Hanger!
I must return that fish hook to Mr O’Bradain, I thought as I hung my coat on the revolutionary coat hanger.