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Hygienic products

Knife sharpening and cleaning machine, c. 1905.

Knife sharpening and cleaning machine, c. 1905.

Credits:Science Museum, London/SSPL

Towards the end of the 1800s the public became extremely concerned about germs and how to prevent them spreading. Products that prevented contamination, or could be thrown away after use, gradually came onto the market. Good sanitation and housekeeping had become a public issue and it was taught to girls in state schools. Gas was brought in as a ‘clean’ fuel in the 1900s, followed by electricity in the 1920s. New electric household machines included suction cleaners, washing machines and refrigerators.

Convenient machines and hygienic products came onto the market at about the same time. New chain stores and department stores sold ‘hygienically wrapped’ food and new sanitary products such as toilet paper. Pull-off toilet paper was marketed in the 1880s, toilet rolls in the 1920s.

Some personal hygiene products developed from the equipment used for aseptic surgery. Dry-dressing bandages were first marketed as sanitary towels for menstruation in the 1880s. Tampons were invented by a US wound-dressings company in the 1930s. Absorbent tissue paper was first marketed for removing make-up, but then customers started using it in place of handkerchiefs. Throwaway products were increasingly used in hospitals, while antiseptic products were marketed for home use.



E.F.Armstrong, ‘Charles Frederick Cross’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2004)

G.T.Bettany, ‘Joseph Samuel Gamgee’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2004)

B Cathcart, ‘Sir Michael Perrin’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2004)

A Forty, Objects of Desire: Design and Society 1750-1980 (London: Thames & Hudson, 1986)

N Tomes, The Gospel of Germs: Men, Women and the Microbe in American Life (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1998)

S L Vostral, ‘Masking menstruation: The emergence of menstrual hygiene products in the United States’, in A Sahil and G Howie (eds), Menstruation: A Cultural History(Basingstoke, Hampshire and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)