Pocket Science: Standing on the Shoulders of Lesser-Known Giants

pocket patent.jpg

This patent for a pocket protector was issued to Himan C.1 Dexter on February 24, 1903, which predates Hurley Smith's famous and more celebrated "pocket shield" by a good 40 years.


Not exactly. Despite its appearance, Himan's invention wasn't exactly the full sheath pioneered by iconic nerd doodad creator Smith, which is probably why Dexter's got zero Goog juice. In fact, it was only an "Improvement in Pocket-Protectors." Turns out there are a handful of patents that attempted to further the functional design of shirt pockets. Some date back to the 1880s. And who knows what was being created before the rise of patents. This complicates how you'd go about identifying the one and only "pocket protector."

When we think of the "pocket-protector," Smith gets the bulk of the credit. Articles in Wikipedia, geek historian Benjamin Nugent's American Nerd and even IEEE's "History of the Pocket Protector" all neglect to mention or even footnote Dexter or any of the other pocket-science developers from the 19th century. It's like discussing the history of the automobile, and giving Henry Ford all the credit, no?2

Granted some pocket-protector aficionados do recognize those early contributions, but that's not evident online. So today, I'd like to salute Dexter, D.J. Scott (1887), W.V.S. Bastian (1890), Joseph W. Parmley (1892), Joseph D. Heffner (1899), and all the other tailors, seamstresses, and engineers who dared to push pocket function forward.

1Uneducated guess: the "C" stands for "Could-be-worse-at-least-my-surname's-not-Poindexter.-But-yeah,-you're-right.-Himan-is-kind-of-a-bummer."

2On the other hand, the most effective marketers always get the most credit. From the NYT (bold is my own):

Made possible by the same heat-sealing process used to make World War II flak jackets, the pocket protector was intended as an advertising giveaway, emblazoned with a company logo. But this simple polyvinyl chloride product evolved into something far more culturally symbolic: it became the ultimate emblem of nerdiness.

Had Dexter found a way to freely distribute mass quantities of his early pocket protector, perhaps we'd be calling the device the "Dexter."

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  1. So you are implying that Henry Ford was the most important inventor of the automobile? Fascinating. What are his contributions, exactly? (except making it cheaper?)

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