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: , , .
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?