Muller, Gertrude (1887–1954)
Muller, Gertrude (1887–1954)
American businesswoman and inventor, credited with inventing the first child's car seat, who was a pioneer in auto-crash product safety testing. Born Gertrude Agnes Muller on June 9, 1887, in Leo, Indiana; died of cancer on October 31, 1954, in Fort Wayne, Indiana; daughter of Victor Herbertus Muller (a businessman) and Catherine (Baker) Muller; attended International Business College in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Worked at General Electric Company (1904–10); worked as assistant to the president and later as assistant manager of Van Arnam Manufacturing Co.; designed folding child's toilet seat, then founded Juvenile Wood Products Company (1924); designed first child's car seat and conducted auto-crash safety studies; made a National Veteran of Safety by the National Safety Council; was a guest at White House Conference on Highway Safety (1954).
Gertrude Muller was born on June 9, 1887, in Leo, Indiana, the third of five children of Victor and Catherine Baker Muller . The son of German immigrants, Victor Muller was a prosperous businessman and town trustee in Leo, and the family was socially prominent until his death in 1893. Reduced circumstances then forced Catherine Muller to move with her children to Fort Wayne, where she made ends meet in enterprising ways, including taking in roomers and selling doughnuts.
Gertrude Muller spent a year at Fort Wayne's International Business College, taking secretarial instruction. She augmented her education with much reading on her own in various fields, including human development, health, and nutrition. From 1904 to 1910, she worked at the General Electric Company, then moved to the Van Arnam Manufacturing Company, a toilet seat fabricator. She rose to the position of assistant manager after four years as assistant to the president. Her first child development product design was a collapsible child's toilet seat. Called the "Toidey Seat," it was first manufactured by Van Arnam. A failed attempt to market the seats through plumbers led Muller to form her own company, Juvenile Wood Products, in 1924. She then successfully sold the seats through department stores and child specialty shops. A different informational and educational pamphlet on various progressive child-rearing practices, most of which Muller wrote herself, was included with each product; the pamphlet that accompanied the "Toidey Seat," recommending parents to encourage toilet-training and the child's resultant independence without undue vehemence, went through 26 printings and was also used by pediatricians and in home economics classes.
Juvenile Wood Products prospered even throughout the Depression, providing employment for several family members. (As plastics began to be used in place of wood, in 1944 the company was renamed the Toidey Company.) Products included a child's step-stool for the bathroom, a folding booster seat, and the first child's car seat, the "Comfy-Safe Auto-Seat." Muller was also committed to the concept of product safety. Toward that end, she was one of the first to conduct auto-crash safety studies. As a result of that dedication, the National Safety Council made her a National Veteran of Safety; she was one of the first three women to be so honored. She was also a guest at the White House Conference on Highway Safety in 1954. Muller remained president of her company until her death from cancer of the spine on October 31, 1954.
Griffin, Lynne, and Kelly McCann. The Book of Women. Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams, 1992.
Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.
Ellen Dennis French , freelance writer, Murrieta, California