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Tissues - not to be sneezed at

It was just as well Kleenex rebranded its ‘man-size’ tissues packs before some wiseacre reported their pharmacist to the local trading standards office, says Steve Ainsworth

 

 

Buying a ‘king-size’ bed could be a gamble. It depends which king the manufacturer had in mind: Charles I was only 5’5.”

As for ‘man-size’ tissues, Kleenex changed the description on its packs before some wiseacre decided to complain about their pharmacist to the local trading standards office.

It seems a shame, not least since Britain’s chemists have been selling the familiarly-packaged tissues now for over 60 years.

It was back in 1956 that Kleenex introduced its man-sized paper tissues, a year equally noted not only for the Suez Crisis but also for Minister of Health Robin Turton’s rejection of calls for the government to lead an anti-smoking campaign, arguing that no ill-effects had yet been proven. But back then tobacco smoke was the least of people’s problems.

The Clean Air Act 1956 was an Act of parliament passed in response to London’s great smog four years earlier.

London had long been noted for its pea-souper fogs, but when the great smog fell over the city in December 1952 the effects were unprecedented: some 4,000 people are thought to have died in the immediate aftermath, triggering huge public concern. The fog was so thick it stopped trains, cars, and public events. A further 8,000 died in following weeks and months.

Meanwhile, until the effects of the new Act could be felt, pharmacists continued to do a brisk business, not only dispensing cough medicines by the gallon, but now selling disposable paper handkerchiefs too.

Public demand for tissues had already been primed: Coughs and Sneezes (1945), Modern Guide to Health (1947) and Jet Propelled Germs (1948) were three of the most amusing public health campaign films in the immediate post-war era.

Often a filmic extension of wartime posters featuring rhyming slogans, the publicity was designed to show how thoughtlessness helps to spread not only the common cold, but also many other diseases. In reality the whole ‘coughs and sneezes spread diseases’ campaign, which extended long after the war, was far more to do with fighting absenteeism than concern about people catching a cold.

Paper tissue had been used for centuries in Japan, in the form of washi or ‘Japanese tissue’, as described in this 17th-century account of the arrival of Hasekura Tsunenaga in Europe. In the years 1613 through 1620, Hasekura headed a diplomatic mission to Spain and the Vatican:

“They blow their noses in soft silky papers the size of a hand, which they never use twice, so that they throw them on the ground after usage, and they were delighted to see our people around them precipitate themselves to pick them up.”

Exactly 100 years ago Kimberly–Clark began producing a crepe paper especially designed to be issued to US forces as they began to embark in large numbers for war torn Europe.

Kimberly, Clark and Co. was founded in 1872 by John A. Kimberly, Havilah Babcock, Charles B. Clark, and Franklyn C. Shattuck in Neenah, Wisconsin. The group's first business was operating paper mills, which the company expanded throughout the following decades.

Prior to the First World War, creped cellulose wadding had been developed in Europe as a cotton substitute. Kimberly-Clark brought the idea to the U.S. and in 1914 trademarked the material under the name Cellucotton. During the World War I cotton shortage, Kimberly-Clark convinced the U.S. military to use Cellucotton for surgical dressings and gas mask filters.

Army nurses used cellucotton pads as disposable sanitary napkins. Two years after the war’s end the company introduced Kotex, one of the first disposable feminine hygiene products.

In 1924, facial tissues as they are known today were first introduced by Kimberly-Clark as ‘Kleenex’. They were intended as a means of removing cold cream. Early advertisements linked Kleenex to Hollywood makeup departments, and often included endorsements from movie stars such as Helen Hayes and Jean Harlow who used Kleenex to remove their theatrical makeup with cold cream. But it was customers who spontaneously started to use Kleenex as disposable handkerchiefs: a reader survey in 1926 by a newspaper in Peoria, Illinois found that 60% of the users used them for blowing their noses. The other 40% used them for various reasons, including napkins and as toilet paper.

It wasn’t however until 1929, when Kimberly-Clark’s own head researcher was suffering from hay fever and started using the tissues in place of a handkerchief, that the idea really took off. Sales doubled in the first year after that pollen-fuelled epiphany.

What was missing however was a convenient means of dispensing paper hankies. Scotties’ ‘magic oval’ box appeared in 1962.

Scott Paper was founded in 1879 in Philadelphia by brothers E. Irvin and Clarence Scott, and is often credited as being the first to market toilet paper sold on a roll. They began marketing paper tissues in the 1930s.

In 1995, in the ultimate demonstration of absorbency, Kimberly-Clark absorbed Scott Paper. Meanwhile how big would a truly man-size tissue have to be?

Not even the biggest tissue makes the grade. The smallest man ever recorded, the late Chandra Bahadur Dangi of Nepal, still managed to stretch to 21.5 inches.

 

 

 

 

Steve Ainsworth is a writer who specialises in the history of medicine, the NHS and primary care. He spent 25 years working in NHS management.

 

 

 

Picture: Neustockimages (iStock)

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