8 Toiletries and their Interesting Origins

Most of us take simple inventions for granted that does so much to help us maintain good hygiene and sanitation. We all have a basic routine like brushing our teeth, combing our hair, taking a shower, and these routine tasks require specific toiletries. These mundane bathroom essentials have a very deep and interesting history, that otherwise contradicts its basic and ordinary use.

Here’s a bizarre look back at 9 common toiletries and the history behind them.

8. Toothbrush

In 1600 B.C the Chinese used chewing sticks to clean their teeth and mouths, which were made from the twigs of a certain tree. Chew sticks were rubbed against the teeth without any abrasive such as toothpaste. Chew sticks have also been found alongside their owners in Egyptian tombs, dating to 3000 B.C.

The Chinese invented the first bristle toothbrush in 1498. The bristles were hand plucked from the backs of the necks of Siberian pigs, which were attached to a bamboo or a bone. The Europeans, on the other hand, preferred softer bristles made from horsehair. While most people remained ignorant about dental hygiene, some used natural sponges, feathered quills, or metal needles to clean their teeth.

In 1930, nylon was discovered by the chemist Du Pont, eight years later the first nylon toothbrush was marketed in the United States. However, the nylon bristles were so stiff that it caused gum bleeding, and dentists resisted from recommending it. Then finally, in 1950s Du Pont introduced a toothbrush with softer bristles, which was a little more expensive than the older one.

7. Toothpaste

About four thousand years ago, the Egyptians created highly abrasive toothpastes from ox hooves’, ashes and burnt eggshells, powdered pumice stone, and strong wine vinegar which was rubbed against a chew stick. The Greeks and Romans, reportedly made toothpastes from crushed bones, bark and oyster shells. The Chinese too, added a variety of ingredients like, ginseng, herbal mints, and salt in their toothpastes.

Powders were usually used instead of toothpastes. Until 1850s, when a new toothpaste in a jar called Creme Dentrifice was developed. Later in 1890s, Colgate introduced the first toothpaste in a tube, which was similar to the modern day toothpaste tubes in our houses.

All toothpastes used to have soap as their main ingredient. After 1945, soap was replaced by other ingredients to create a smoother paste, such as fluoride and sodium lauryl sulphate, which are still found in the modern day toothpastes.

6. Soap

Almost four thousand years ago, the Hittites of Asia Minor washed their hands with the ash of soapwort plant suspended in water. In the same era, the Babylonians created alkali solutions to clean themselves. Neither of these preparations was soap, but were quite close to the actual product, which was developed in 600 B.C by the Phoenicians.The Phoenicians boiled goat fat, water,and ash high in potassium carbonate, allowing the liquid to evaporate to form solid, waxy soap.

During the middle ages, the production of soap virtually came to a halt when the Church warned the evils of exposing the flesh, even to bathe. Later, medical science discovered bacteria as a leading cause of diseases, and soap production came to a rise. All those years soap was basically the same product as that developed by the Phoenicians.

In 1978, Procter and his cousin Gamble, decided to produce a creamy white, delicately scented, floating soap. They soon introduced the White Soap, it yielded a rich lather, even in cold water, and had a smooth consistency. However, it wasn’t white and nor did it float. One day, a factory worker forgot to switch off the mixing machine. Upon returning, he realized that too much air had been whipped into the solution, he poured it into the frames anyways. And this was how history’s first air laden white soap was created.


5. Shampoo

Shampoo’s main function is too remove the scalp’s natural sebum oil from the hair, the ordinary soap doesn’t help much as it deposits its own scum. The Egyptians used to wash their hair with water and citrus juice, the citric acid effectively cutting off the sebum oil. Homemade citrus preparations, occasionally blended with a little soap, were popular for centuries.

The word shampoo originated in England, when the British ruled in India. Indian fashion and art, as well as Hindu phrases were the vogue in England. In that decade, a British hairdresser coined the word shampoo from the Hindi word Champoo, meaning “to massage”. At the same time, German chemists were discovering the true detergents that would become modern shampoos.

Ironically, the word shampoo originated in England, but the first shampoo was produced in Germany in the 1890s. After the first World War, the product was marketed as a hair cleansing preparation, the label “shampoo” was awaiting it. An American man named, John Breck, turned his personal battle against baldness into a business. He introduced different shampoos for normal hair and dry hair. Of all his successful hair cleaning mixture, none cured his own baldness.

4. Comb

The most primitive comb used to be the dried backbone of a large fish, which is still used by remote African tribes. Comb’s characteristic design is apparent in the ancient Indo- European source of the word “comb”, “gombhos”, meaning teeth. Combs were discovered from Egyptians tombs, some had single rows of teeth, some double rows.

In early Christian times, combing hair was also part of religious ceremonies. There were careful directions on how to properly comb a priest’s hair in a sacristy before vespers. Christian martyrs brought combs with them into catacombs. Historians suggest that combs developed a certain religious significance. Many of the earliest stained-glass windows contain unmistakable images of combs.

During the 1600s, magic surrounded the comb. It was widely popular that graying hair could be restored to its original color by frequent strokes with a lead comb. Which might have been true, as blackened lead microscopically deposited on strands of hair, slightly darkening them.

3. Mouthwash

The Romans reportedly used human urine as a form of mouthwash. Roman physicians declared that urine can help in teeth whitening and fixing teeth more firmly in the sockets. Upper-class Roman women paid more for Portuguese urine, since it was alleged to be strongest on the Continent. Early dentists were actually using urine’s cleansing ammonia molecules. Urine was an active component in toothpastes and mouthwashes, continued to be used into the eighteenth century.

In 1880 a Missouri physician named, Joseph Lawrence developed an anti-septic liquid, Listerine, named after Sir Joseph Lister, the British surgeon who pioneered sanitary operating room procedures. It was originally invented as an anti-septic for surgeries and bathing wounds . But was later sold for varied purposes such as floor cleaning, and a cure for gonorrhea. People even recommended it for sweaty feet, and soft corns, growing between the toes. It wasn’t a huge success until 1920s, when it became a solution for Halitosis (a medical term for bad breath).

2. Razor

Although we imagine early man as a bearded creature, archaeologists claim that men shaved their faces as far as twenty thousand years ago. Sharpened flints and shells were the first razors. The Egyptians hammered iron and bronze, and made metal razors out of it. Clean shaven faces were a symbol of status, and members of royalty took their collection of bronze razors with them to grave.

Indian Americans stoically pulled out their beards hair by hair, using clam shells as tweezers. For centuries, man learned painfully through nicking and gashing the skin, how to shave safely with a sharp straight razor. The first safety razor appeared in 1762 in France, it employed a metal guard, placed along one edge of the blade. Seventy years later, an improved design debuted in England, which was lighter weight and less cumbersome to use. The modern T-shaped razor was an American invention, but its irreplaceable blade had to be sharpened regularly.

The shaving revolution was launched by a travelling salesman-inventor named King Gillette. After King’s book turned out to be a complete failure, he turned elsewhere for his fortune. His friend suggested him to create an item that could be discarded, once used. One morning in 1895, Gillette started to shave and found his razor edge dull beyond use. The concept of a disposable razor was simple, but the technology took more than six years to perfect. Engineers at MIT advised Gillette to drop the project. One MIT professor, though, William Nickerson, inventor of a push button system for elevators, decided in 1901 to collaborate with Gillette. They created world’s first small, inexpensive, paper-thin steel blades, known as safety razors.

  1. Toilet Paper

Cleaning ourselves after defecating has been a part of almost all cultures and ages. The wealthier Romans used wool and rosewater and the commoners would rub themselves with a sponge attached to a wooden stick, which was soaked in salt water. The Greeks would use clay and fruit skins. The colonial Americans made use of the core center cobs from shelled ears of corn. The Chinese were the first ones who invented toilet paper, as we know it, in the 14th century.

Toilet paper was first commercially packaged in America, by businessman Joseph Gayetty in 1857. But the product, available in packages of individual sheets, sold poorly and soon started to disappear from grocery store shelves. At that time, most Americans didn’t want to waste money on perfectly clean paper when their bathrooms and outhouses were amply stocked with last year’s department store catalogues, newspapers, pamphlets and advertisements, which also provided reading material.

In England, another attempt was made to market toilet paper in 1897 by British manufacturer Walter Alcock. Whereas Gayetty produced individual flat sheets of paper, Alcock introduced “tear sheets”, the first perforated toilet roll. Invention was one thing, but marketing an unmentionable item in the prudish Victorian age was another, which is why Alcock spent nearly a decade to get his product accepted by public.

At the same time, two brothers in Philadelphia, Edward and Clarence Scott succeeded in the field where Alcock and Gayetty failed. The Scotts’ timing was better than Gayetty. In the 1880s, many home owners, hotels, and restaurants were installing full service indoor plumbing for sinks, showers, and toilets. Unlike Gayetty’s toilet paper, available only in large packages, the Scotts’ product came in small rolls.