SPANEL, ABRAM NATHANIEL (1901–1985), U.S. industrialist, inventor, philanthropist. Spanel was the founder of one of the biggest corset and brassiere companies in the U.S. and an inventor who held more than 2,000 patents. He was probably best known, however, for the editorials he wrote as paid advertisements in scores of newspapers all over the country for more than 40 years. In them, he offered his opinions on world affairs, with particular emphasis on matters affecting the State of Israel, whose cause he championed.
Born in Odessa, Russia, the son of a tailor and a laundress, he was taken to Paris by his family at an early age, and then to Rochester, N.Y., when he was 10. He was a student at the University of Rochester for three years, then invented a garment bag that could be aired and moth-proofed with a vacuum cleaner. He made his first million dollars with his first business, the Vacuumizer Manufacturing Company. In 1932 he founded the International Latex Corporation, which later became the International Playtex Corporation. Playtex was the first company to make a bra with elastic, the first to package intimate apparel and sell it as a brand, and the first to advertise it on television. It was also the first to use live women modeling bras in TV commercials. Spanel retired as chairman of International Playtex in 1975, but remained active as head of the Spanel Foundation and Spanel International Ltd., a business he started in 1976 to manufacture some of his inventions. Spanel was awarded patents on an eclectic range of products, including a hair-cutting device to be used in the home and a pneumatic stretcher for transporting military personnel wounded in combat. His philanthropic interests focused on medical research, especially child care. He established the Spanel Foundation for Cancer Research in New York City and the Playtex Park Research Institute at his company's headquarters in Dover, Delaware. His employees were provided with free Vitamin C tablets and were among the first workers to have air-conditioning, paid health and life insurance, and a profit-sharing plan. During World War II, Spanel contributed more than $1.5 million to the war effort, the profits he had made on war contracts. A staunch advocate of Franco-American relations, he was made a Commander of the Legion of Honor by France.
W.H. Waggoner, New York Times (April 2, 1985).