On March 18th 1947, the United States Patent Office issued patent #2417786 to Hurley Smith, an electrical engineer who had graduated from Queens University in Ontario, Canada, in 1933, started out marketing the newly invented Popsicles, and lost his first job designing electrical transformers when he discovered the company he was working for was selling used transformers as new in the days before “whistle blower” legislation. Finding himself unemployed, with with a wife and five children, he went on to invent the pocket protector,
The pocket protector was designed to protect the ubiquitous white shirts once worn by professionals, including engineers, from ink stains – particularly from the newly invented but not entirely perfected ball point pens – and from the fraying around the edges which shirt pockets experienced from pens, slide rules, and the other miscellaneous items a shirt pocket was used to hold.
Manufactured of plastic, at a time when the use of plastics in regular manufacturing was itself something of a novelty, Hurley had, in classical geek fashion, developed the prototype in the attic his Buffalo home, using his wife’s iron to bend and fuse the plastic. The pocket protectors manufactured by Hurley – and by others who infringed on his patent – imprinted with a logo, and generally given away by companies as advertising premiums – were (until the demise of the standard white business shirt) a badge of membership for engineers and geeks in general.