From textured wallpaper used to wrap packages, to a common kids toy being used to clean walls, discover the fascinating origins of simple products we use every day.
In 1924 Kleenex first introduced their disposable thin soft sheets of towel as disposable make-up removers and for applying cold cream as a substitute for cotton wool. It wasn’t until a few years later that the company’s Head of Research suggested potential use as a disposable handkerchief. By the 1930s Kleenex were advertising the product as such with the slogan ‘Don’t Carry a Cold in Your Pocket’.
Bubble wrap was invented in 1957 by two USA engineers, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes. They were originally trying to create uniquely textured wallpaper by sealing two shower curtains together, creating a smattering of air bubbles. This was unsuccessful so they then tried to promote it as greenhouse insulation. The brand ‘Bubble Wrap’ was created in 1960 but it wasn’t until 1961 that they discovered its use as protective packaging. Their first client to use the product this way was IBM, for shipping their IBM 1401 computer.
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Named after Joseph Lister, a pioneer of antiseptic surgery, Listerine was developed in 1879 by a chemist named Joseph Lawrence in the USA. It was first sold as an alcohol-based formula for surgical antiseptic, and then as a floor cleaner, cure for the common cold, dandruff treatment and cure for gonorrhoea. An article from 1888 recommends Listerine “for sweaty feet, and soft corns, developing between the toes.” In 1895 Listerine was promoted to dentists for oral care, and in 1914 became the first over-the-counter mouthwash sold in the United States. It became a runaway success in the 1920s, when it was pitched as a solution for bad breath.
Play-Doh originated as a wall-paper cleaner in the 1930s when coal was used for heating homes and left a layer of soot on the walls. However after WWII sales began to dwindle as oil and gas heating replaced coal heating. In the 1950s they stumbled upon a magazine article – old school Pinterest style – recommending wall paper cleaner as a cheap option for kids to create Christmas Decorations. Thankfully they abandoned the original name ““Kutol’s Rainbow Modeling Compound” for the much more kid-friendly ‘Play-Doh’ to provide the brightly coloured, salty goop we are all familiar with today.
In 1953 Dr Norm Larsen, founder of the Rocket Chemical Company, set out to create a solvent which would prevent nuclear missiles from going rusty. It took them 40 attempts to get the formula right, and that’s how the winning recipe got its name. WD-40 is derived from its intended use of Water Dispersement, – and the fact that they finally succeeded on their 40th try. Convair, an aerospace contractor, first used WD-40 to protect the outer skin of the Atlas Missile from rust and corrosion. It wasn’t until 1958 that WD-40 appeared on supermarket shelves in aerosol can form for household use. The idea for this came after the company owners realised employees were sneaking cans of the product out of the building to use around the home.