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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Bras CAN be for the Birds — Especially Pigeons! (Thursday's Testimony)

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Before I tell you about the picture atop this entry of a paratrooper wearing a pigeon vest,please take a moment to consider the image directly below...

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... it appeared in my news feed this morning from Jem Humphrey who wrote often calls herself "The crazy Pigeon Lady." Here's what she said re this picture. "Good morning! Lets begin the day with some beautiful words from Archimedes about our favorite bird!"

Now back to the picture atop this entry of a paratrooper wearing a pigeon vest, I was fascinated by this "apparel" and did a lot of research about it, then wrote a somewhat lengthy blog post (it's more of a print article in terms of length) and then I scheduled its posting for October 2nd as this is not one of my regular posting days for September 2019.

However, given the words on the image within "The Crazy Pigeon Lady's" posting today, I decided to publish my post today. I hope it finds you as intrigued by the pigeon bra as I am abd I hope it helps you to appreciate the contributions pigeons made during we time. Here goes:

I've recently learned via an article (History by Zim Beyond Text Books) that "During World War II, many American countries paused their pre-war manufacturing and converted it into war work, producing materials used by the military. Maidenform, a manufacturer of women’s underwear, also halted pre-war fabrication and switched to defense work. What could a company that produces bras and undergarments have to contribute to the war effort?

Maidenform manufactured two things during World War II. The first was parachutes, which is not too surprising. However, the second product they produced was pigeon bras. Yes, you read that correctly. Pigeon bras, also called pigeon vests, were made out of bra-like materials and served a practical purpose. They were designed so a carrier pigeon could be strapped to a paratrooper’s chest."

A picture of one such bra can be seen in the picture atop this entry. The article goes on to say, "Pigeon bras, also called pigeon vests, were made out of bra-like materials and served a practical purpose. They were designed so a carrier pigeon could be strapped to a paratrooper’s chest," as seen in the photograph atop this entry and in the one directly below.

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The pictures included within this blog post can be found in the article and Zim attributes the photo credit to The American Museum Of Natural History (AMNH) in NYC.

In his article, Zim states the following, "On December 22, 1944, the company agreed to make over 28,000 of these bras for the government. The government realized the importance of protecting these birds because they played a big part in the war. Carrier pigeons often carried messages or other small items (such as blood samples or tiny cameras) in capsules attached to their leg. They were also difficult to capture.

"These bras – or vests – kept the pigeons safe and secured when the paratroopers jumped int a war zone. Upon landing, he would undo the bra, attached a message to the pigeon, and send the bird on his – or her – way back to operation command. During World War II alone, over 56,000 carrier pigeons were trained by the United States Army Pigeon Service to carry messages and other forms of communications. They were pretty successful in doing so since around 90% of messages were successfully delivered.

"One of the most famous birds from the WWII-era was G.I. Joe. The bird, trained by the U.S. Army Pigeon Service, saved a thousand lives when it flew 20 miles in 20 minutes with a message to call off a bomb request. This occurred during the Italian Campaign in October 1943. Allies requested air support against German positions at Calvi Vecchia. However, before the air support arrived, the 169th (London) Infantry Brigade captured the village from the Germans. If the air support had arrived before G.I. Joe delivered the message, the allied forces in Calvi Vecchia – as well as the civilians in the town – would have died.

"Thirty-two pigeons received the Dickens Medal for their distinguished and successful service during the war. The Dickens Medal is a British honor and is awarded to animals that have displayed 'conspicuous gallantry or devotion to duty while serving or associated with any branch of the Armed Forces or Civil Defense Units.'"


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Zim reminds his readers what Maidenform said about its brassieres with a photo of an ad that prevailed at that time (seen below ): “There is a maiden form for every type of figure!” Even the figure of a pigeon."

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I found another article about pigeon bras (by AMNH's 2013 intern Lindsay Keating). Keating's article includes a photo of a blueprint (copy posted below) of the pigeon bra and points out the blueprint states,"Important: Do not retain pigeon in vest in excess of six hours."


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Fascinated by the pigeon bra news, I came upon an article by someone who calls herself Sue and who wrote it in for a publication called Hidden New Jersey. In it she offers the following re pigeon bras.

"... I stumbled on the story of Ida Cohen Rosenthal. A Russian immigrant who arrived in Hoboken in 1904, Ida soon married, bought a Singer sewing machine and went into business for herself as a dressmaker. Within 15 years, she and her husband William were operating a factory with 20 workers, but their time in Hoboken would be cut short due to snow. It wasn't that the white stuff was preventing their workers from getting to the shop, or curtailing their deliveries. What infuriated the Rosenthals was the fact they had to manage it. City statutes required property owners to clear snow from the public sidewalks in front of their buildings, and the couple apparently didn't want to be responsible for that task, sizable though their shop might be. Rather than hiring people to shovel their walk, they moved across the river, decamping to Washington Heights.

"Their business prospering, the Rosenthals partnered with a friend, Enid Bisset, in a new Manhattan dressmaking venture, Enid Frocks. It was the 1920s, and the flapper look was in style, with its waifish, boylike appearance. To fit into the vogue fashion, women would bind their bosoms with plain strips of cloth to approximate a flat chest, despite their natural dimensions. Ida and Enid went one step beyond and created a bandeau that hooked in the back and cupped a woman's natural curves. Their dresses appealed to the more womanly customer, who didn't like the restrictive feeling of the fashion of the day. Including a brassiere with the purchase of an Enid Frocks dress, Ida and Enid apparently didn't initially recognize the bonanza they had created. Their customers would have to show them.

"And, indeed, they did: after buying an Enid Frocks dress and accompanying bra, women would return to buy more undergarments, which the women accommodatingly sold them for a dollar apiece. Ida created the brand name "Maiden Form" to differentiate the womanly bras from the boyish look of the flapper fashion, and the undergarment business took off, despite warnings from her brothers, who told her to stick with dresses. In fact, it was the bra, not the dress, that kept the company afloat after the stock market crash of 1929, when competing dressmakers went out of business. Already, the success of the business had led the Rosenthals back to New Jersey when Maiden Form outgrew its New York factory. According to some sources, it eventually became one of the largest employers in Bayonne, doing well throughout the Great Depression.

"Which leads us to... pigeon bras. Maiden Form, like virtually every manufacturer in the United States, had to fight tooth and nail to get raw materials during World War II. If it wasn't needed for the war effort, it wasn't going to get to the factory. Ida, in her own spunky style, convinced government officials that her business was absolutely essential. Wouldn't women serving in the WACs and WAVES face fatigue without the right support from a Maiden Form bra? (Ironically, Jane Russell would famously support this concept for another manufacturer in commercials for the 18 hour bra.) Parts of the business also converted to parachute making, while yet another group at the Bayonne factory turned out pigeon vests. Sewn from bra fabric and attached to a paratrooper's gear, the vests enclosed a carrier pigeon, which the paratrooper would release with a message once he'd landed in enemy territory. Soldiers being who they are, the vests quickly became known as bras.

"The challenge of wartime shortages overcome, Ida brought her company into the late 40s and 50s with a series of innovative advertising campaigns that kept Maiden Form in the vanguard of women's undergarments. William had already made substantial contributions to design, including standardized cup sizes to ensure women could find a reliable fit, time after time. By 1960, the company's name had evolved to Maidenform, its founder still active in the business at an age when most folks would have retired. The business had expanded into Europe and Latin America, its manufacturing moving to southern states and Puerto Rico. Ida continued to work until suffering a stroke at the age of 80, leaving Maidenform in the capable hands of her daughter.

"Today, Maidenform is part of Hanes Brands and retains offices in Iselin, its former Bayonne factory now converted into chic apartments. You have to wonder how many people know the unique way the small city supported the troops in World War II... or, for that matter, millions of American women. I do know that the next time I drive down Avenue E, I'll give a small salute and a knowing grin to the pigeons hanging out in front of the brick building at number 154.
this news."

That's about all I found in my pigeon bra research, but in terms of Maidenform, I do know, in the years to follow Maidenform's producing their pigeon bras, their bras became known for other matters — because of its "iconic ads — as seen in the following photos.

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Instead of being associated wirh war rescue efforts, Maidenform became associated with  the prevalence of (how) sexual harassment and mistreatment in the workplace have become part of our national dialogue.

A blog post for Envisioning The American Dream (where all of Maidenform advertisement images are from and where others can be found), states, Maidenform Bras encouraged the ladies to be brazen, be bold; there was no adventure, situation or job she couldn’t dream of tackling. When it came to aspirations, Maidenform said dream big.

A bullfighter, a construction worker,  a safari hunter,  even a politician. That is, if m’lady knew how to dress for success. Stand out  from the crowd gals in your conical Maidenform bra. Nothing spoke  'serious career girl' more than wearing a boss-pleasing bra to work, especially when worn without a blouse."

In any event, upon my reading the information about pigeon bras, I might even imagine the pigeons who visit my rooftop garden (such as the one featured in the next picture)...


...huddled inside a pigeon bra, ready to assist those in need.

I'm glad I've been able to give thanks to members of this avian community — albeit to some minor extent — by bringing pigeons I've rescued (in my rooftop garden) to The Wild Bird Fund. Moreover, it has been an honor to raise awareness bout his bird variety in my book series, Words In Our Beak.


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