Journey to the Modern Brassiere
The history of the modern 'bra' we know of today is a debated subject that goes farther back than most of us can comfortably comprehend. However, the generally accepted story goes something like this:
The first modern bra (i.e. not a corset) allegedly begins in 1893 with a certain Marie Tucek. It was called the 'breast supporter' and had a striking resemblance to modern bras, having separate 'containers' for each breast, shoulder straps and the like. However, she never persued the commercial possibilities of the brassiere and so she never saw the huge financial potential of women's underthings.
The first person to see financial gain from the bra was Mary Phelps Jacob (a.k.a Caresse Crosby) of New York and her French maid Marie. It was born as a child of necessity. Mary had purchased an elegant, sheer dress for a social function, but was abhorred that when she wore it, the rigid outline of her whalebone corset was plainly visible under the gown. Mary and Marie then fashioned the next big thing in womans clothing: using two handkerchiefs and a length of ribbons and string they created a support garment that was invisible to the outside world.
The bra, not Mary, was the belle of the ball.
Mary immediately started getting orders from people who wanted one of the miraculous things for themselves. She patented the design and did brisk sales until she realized that she was not going to 'get rich' from the idea, she sold the design to the Warner Brothers Corset Company (no relation) for a paltry $1,500.
The next big thing was in the 1920's when Ida Rosenthal formed the company Maidenform. She was the one who categorized bust sizes into the now familiar 'cup' sizes and standardized the way bust measurements are taken.