WATERLOO — For the past eight years, Mayor Quentin Hart has worn bow ties to the office.
A friend turned him on to them, he said, and Hart found he preferred them over neckties.
“They’re sharp, crisp, clean — they give you an extra ‘GQ’-ness,” the Waterloo mayor said. “And they’re coming back.”
So it was natural Hart will wear a bow tie to his annual State of the City address at 11 a.m. Friday at the Courtyard Marriott in Waterloo.
But what the mayor didn’t know until a few months ago was how his penchant for the patterned neckwear was a perfect tie-in for Waterloo’s history.
One hundred and one years ago, on July 13, 1917, the president and manager of a Waterloo company named United Neckwear Manufacturing Co. filed a patent with the U.S. Patent Office for a fastener that allows a bow tie to clip on to a collared shirt.
President Robert C. Pedersen and his manager, Erskine C. McConnell, were hoping their invention would kickstart them into business making an easier-to-use bow tie.
And a little more than 100 years ago — on March 19, 1918 — they got the patent, allowing them to set up shop in 310 and 312 E. Fourth St. in downtown Waterloo, now home to Jameson’s Public House, and begin making them.
William Bisbee, exhibit technician for the Grout Museum District, said it appears United Neckwear did well for several years.
“In the early 1920s, they expanded to also take 314 E. Fourth,” Bisbee said.
The company then moved to 23 E. Fifth St. in the mid to late 1920s before disappearing from the city directory altogether by 1928, said Bisbee. A notation in one of the last directories notes they were making a move to Minneapolis.
Bisbee hasn’t yet found any bow ties made by the company. But the clip-on bow tie proliferates nonetheless, and doesn’t look much different than it did 100 years ago in an office in Waterloo.
“If you find a clip-on bow tie made today, it’s pretty much the same mechanics, the same device, as when it was patented,” Bisbee said. “Once you get a good idea, it doesn’t change much.”
Bisbee included that patent, along with about 1,200 others invented in Waterloo since 1861, in a permanent exhibit in the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium years ago — which is where Wendy Bowman, who then worked for the Cedar Valley Alliance, first found out about it.
Among the patents for obscure or otherwise technically-complicated inventions was United Neckwear’s clip-on bow tie.
“This one caught my eye because it’s fun and something everyone could relate to,” Bowman said.
She kept it in her back pocket until she began working as Waterloo’s communication director, and noticed Hart was a bow-tie aficionado when they were mulling over ideas for the State of the City.
“It’s a fun spin on, this is the birthplace of a legacy of inventors and entrepreneurs in this community,” Bowman said.
Since United Neckwear isn’t around anymore, in February the mayor reached out to Annette Lynch, director of the textiles and apparel program at the University of Northern Iowa, to design and make a clip-on bow tie for the mayor and several others to wear to the address.
“He saw me and said, ‘Annette, can your students work on bow ties?’ And I said yes,” Lynch said. “This is a great community engagement project for the students.”
Lynch assigned the task to UNI senior Jordan Caruso, who designed 15 prototypes before getting the OK from the mayor’s office for one with the city logo and a blue background to signify the Cedar River.
“Overall, it wasn’t super difficult to make them,” said Caruso, who said it took her between two to three hours to design the bow tie. “I like fabric — that’s my thing.”
The pattern was printed Thursday and will be steamed, rinsed, laundered and dried before a team of student volunteers begin sewing the 20 bow ties this week — all while students are getting final designs in for the semester for the spring design show.
“This is a really meaningful thing, and not easy for students this time of year, so I’m proud of them,” Lynch said.
Hart is grateful, too.
“This was the perfect opportunity to tie the past and the future together,” he said.