Why Did WWI Change The Way We Blow Our Noses?
A: It gave birth to Kleenex.
Right before the outbreak of World War I, the Kimberly-Clark Corporation trademarked Cellucotton, an absorbent substitute for cotton that is derived from cellulose, which, in turn, comes largely from wood pulp. With cotton in short supply during the war, Cellucotton was widely used as a battlefield bandage. At the end of the war, the company pondered what to do with the huge surpluses of Cellucotton bulging out its warehouses.
One idea came from army nurses who had already discovered Cellucotton’s usefulness as a feminine napkin, which Kimberly-Clark began marketing in 1920 as Kotex. In 1924, the company came out with Kleenex Kerchiefs, which were billed as the “Sanitary Cold Cream Remover.” Ads featured actors like Helen Hayes and Ronald Colman removing makeup the “scientific way” with the Kleenex Kerchiefs. But the public had other ideas and began to adopt the cold cream removers as a disposable handkerchief. That underground use grew even more rapidly when the company started packaging Kleenex in the “Serv-a-Tissue,” the new pop-up tissue box invented by Andrew Olsen.
Only in the early 1930s did Kimberly-Clark finally begin to market Kleenex as disposable handkerchiefs. For good measure, the company also began to suggest other possible uses from polishing furniture to removing the grease from french fries.
Sources: Kimberly-Clark Corporation, The Story of Kleenex Facial Tissue (1990); Charles Panati, Panati’s Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things (1989).