Three friends reminisce about inventing and patenting the sports bra in 1979


In 1979, Lisa Lindahl, Hinda Miller, and Polly Smith received U.S. Patent No. 4,174,717 for the athletic brassiere, or “Jogbra.” More than 40 years after their invention, they gathered in the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, to discuss their experiences as pioneers in the women’s fitness industry and to reminisce about their days as young friends and creators.

Lindahl, 71, an entrepreneur, author, artist, and women’s health advocate, said the motivation for the Jogbra started with a blunt question from her sister in 1977 about the discomfort she experienced while running: “Why isn’t there a jockstrap for women?”

“A 30-mile-a-week runner myself, I told her I had no good answer about how to solve the problem,” Lindahl said. “When I hung up the phone, I went, well, why not make one? And I wrote down the design specifics such a garment would need. But I don’t sew!”

Fortunately, Lindahl already knew the right women to help with the job. Her childhood friend Smith, now 70 and an award-winning costume designer, was renting a room from her while working as a lead costume designer at the Champlain Shakespeare Festival in Vermont.

Miller, 70, an entrepreneur, author, business coach, frequent corporate and higher education board member—and a Vermont state senator from 2003 to 2012—was also then working at the festival as an assistant costume designer for Smith.

“Polly was living with me, and when I asked her to help me make this bra,” Lindahl said, “she literally rolled her eyes. When we were in school together as kids, we both would cut gym class. Neither one of us were jocks. [Miller] was the jock. She was a skier, and she played basketball.”

However, “When I discovered running, it was a big ‘Aha!’ It empowered me. I became friends with my body, which was never the case before because I’ve had epilepsy all my life.”

Running did present the same discomfort Lindahl and her sister had discussed. Before the Jogbra, Miller said, women “used elastic bandages to bandage their breasts, or we put our elbows to our chest when we ran because it felt better.” First and foremost, the new bra they were about to invent needed to eliminate that problem while running.

Getting the initial construction right was not easy, but inspiration was not long in coming. It came in the form of a crude joke.

One day, while Lindahl and Smith were discussing their prototypes, Lindahl’s then-husband put a jockstrap over his chest and said, “Hey ladies, here’s your jock bra.”

“We thought that was so funny,” Lindahl said. After trying it on for herself, though, she realized they might have found what they were looking for.

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See the Jogbra Prototype

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History opened “Change YOUR Game” on March 15. The family-friendly, interactive exhibition, which celebrates the intersection of invention, sports, and technology, was developed by the museum’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation.

The exhibit will showcase dynamic stories and objects related to diverse inventors, athletes, and technologies that have changed how sports are played. These will include a prototype of the Jogbra, a football helmet with a Crash Cloud prototype to help protect the brain, and more. During its five-year run, the Lemelson Center will offer—in collaboration with the USPTO—a number of special events across the country where the exhibit and its ethos and content will come to life.

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