Did "Earl Mitt" even exist at all? I first heard this story from an answer to this English Language and Usage Stack Exchange question about oven mitts/oven gloves.

Earlier today, the story was in Wikipedia, but it has since been removed; perhaps by someone else who saw the answer I linked to and who was also suspicious of it. Here is the earlier version of the Wikipedia article "Oven Glove", which said:

Oven gloves were invented by Earl Mitt of Austin, Texas, in the early 1870s. He was a frequent baker of Gugelhupf cakes and permanently disfigured his left hand in a baking accident. To prevent further injury to himself, and the injuries of the many generations to come, he crafted a rudimentary oven "mitt" made of wool and shoe leather. He slowly refined his design over the years, experimenting with various arrangements of finger compartments and different insulating materials.

There are also lots of other sites where this claim is repeated (some of them probably learned this bit of fun trivia from Wikipedia), some with minor details changed. Here are some examples: [1], [2], [3].

The story really smells fishy to me (like a less amusing version of the story that the word "crap" comes from Thomas Crapper's name), but I haven't found evidence to disprove it yet.

The first thing I tried to do was find an example of the phrase "oven mitt" being used (with its modern meaning) before the 1870s, the purported date of invention. I tried searching Google Books for the word "oven mitt," but I didn't find anything from before the 1870s. The Google Books Ngram Viewer records no uses of "oven mitt" before 1940.

The word "mitt" by itself, meaning basically "glove," has been attested for longer (as Nate Eldredge states in the comments). However, this doesn't by itself show that "Earl Mitt" did not invent the term and concept of the "oven mitt" in particular; for example, see the following comment from ELU:

Oh, I wouldn't doubt that there was some double meaning intended, but the fact that the inventor's name is Earl Mitt is most definitely a factor in the naming.

So, I haven't found evidence that the name "oven mitt" predates the purported inventor; but other people may have access to other resources, or be able to think of better methods of refuting (or possibly, confirming!) this story. Can you help me learn the truth about this?

  • 7
    The OED's first citation for mitt as something to wear on the hand is dated 1757, and the sense of "mitten" goes to 1812. So if Earl Mitt did name the oven mitt after himself, it was a coincidence that his name was already in use as the word for such objects. Oct 1, 2015 at 22:53
  • 1
    I edited the article to remove the origin section after seeing the ELU question. Made no sense to me and it had been unreferenced since 2013. There's a thread with more details on the talk page, feel free to drop in.
    – isanae
    Oct 1, 2015 at 22:57
  • 7
    I'm very dubious of this claim. Aside from the apparent lack of references to this Earl Mitt, gloves have been around for centuries - is it really likely that it wasn't until the 1870s that someone thought of using a thick leather glove to pick up something hot? Now if the claim was that Earl Mitt was the first to start marketing a glove for this purpose it would sound more plausible to me.
    – Eborbob
    Oct 2, 2015 at 10:56
  • 1
    The oldest document Google knows about with the name Earl Mitt contains slightly different version of your quote, from May 14, 2013.
    – Flimzy
    Oct 10, 2015 at 21:10
  • 4
    There is also a US Patent for a "Baker's Safety Glove" dated 1944, and an earlier patent for a 5-fingered version in 1939. There also aren't any patents by an Earl Mitt at all, and only a couple of mitten-related patents by anyone in the 1870s, and they don't relate to baking or heat protection.
    – Flimzy
    Oct 10, 2015 at 21:36


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