Marcus Merritt Beeman invented a type of corset bone called Spirella in 1904. The device was a flattened metal coil to be inserted into a typically female undergarment for rigidity to achieve an augmented physical appearance. The invention was seen as an improvement over whale baleen or reed which could crack and dig into the body. The Spirella device held its shape and provided flex without breaking. Marcus Merritt Beeman, William Wallace Kincaid and Jesse Homan Pardee partnered to found the Spirella Corset Company Incorporated which manufactured a variety of undergarments for a female market. Factories were located in USA, UK, Canada, Sweden, Denmark and Germany. Spirella Corset Company employed “Corsetiers”, typically women, to visit potential customers at home and generate sales. Salespeople carried samples and equipment to acquire measurements for orders.
Circa 1907 Spirella Corset Company built a manufacturing plant in Niagara Falls, Ontario at the corner of River Road and Hiram Street. The building is claimed to be one of Canada’s first poured concrete structures. The factory is said to have employed up to 250 women. Many Niagara Falls women were employed by Spirella in sewing, administration or sales, especially at wartime. Some female employees left after the war and also after a change in marital status. It is said that Spirella would not employ married women. One account is known of a marriage kept secret by a female employee in order to maintain employment.
By the 1950s production dwindled and the operation moved to Lewis Avenue. The River Road building was eventually sold to Jacob Sherman to house The Niagara Falls Museum. When the museum closed a bird aviary was created in the former corset factory.
To see items from the City of Niagara Falls Museums collections about Spirella Corset Company visit the museums online database here.
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