Feminine Hygiene Products — Stephanie’s Maxi-history (Part 3)
How the Boll Weevil and World War I led to the Acceptance of Disposable Sanitary Pads.
Thank God for the Boll Weevil
Kimberly-Clark, which was then in the business of manufacturing surgical dressings, needed a cost-effective cotton substitute. They figured out a way to use wood pulp processed on machines that were specifically designed to produce a highly absorbent pad with an ultra-thin web that gave it strength. They called this Cellucotton, a melding of the words cellulose and cotton.
Kimberly-Clark hired a sales representative from Sears, a guy named Walter Luecke, to figure out how to sell Cellucotton. The company was aware that nurses in France had been pleased with using their surgical dressings as makeshift sanitary napkins during the war. But the public had already proven to be highly resistant to the concept of disposable pads, so the corporation was in no hurry to enter that market.
Luecke, however, felt this was the only potential market big enough to justify the continued manufacturing of Cellucotton. His persistence with both Kimberly Clark and the retail outlets led to the selling of cellucotton as what we now know as Kotex. And so we have the boll weevil to thank.
The Public Chafed at Seeing Boxes of Kotex on Store Shelves as Kotex Chafed Thighs of Women Who Wore Them
Letters with moral objections to the product poured into the offices of Kimberly Clark. Luecke got names of women from the phone book and mailed them a free sample with the offer of discrete, regular deliveries of Kotex by mail. Not one woman responded.
Eventually, Luecke managed to place a high volume of advertising in both trade and consumer magazines, and he managed to convince both the stores and female consumers to overcome their resistance to napkins. Hurrah!
Disposable Tampons Finally Enter the Marketplace
A doctor named Earle Haas invented the first modern tampon with the tube-within-a-tube applicator for menstrual use in 1931, but after much effort he was frustrated by trying to get it going in the marketplace. He sold the patent to Gertrude Tendrich for $30,000, and she founded Tampax in 1933. Tendrich had better luck with sales, but she didn’t have the capability of wide distribution or mass production. Tendrich was bought out by Ellery Mann, who founded Tampax Incorporated in 1936.
To some extent, sanitary napkins absorbed (no pun intended) the public’s resistance to buying disposable feminine hygiene products but, not surprisingly, it still took a period (no pun intended) of adjustment before the public accepted this item that actually went inside the vagina.
I guess one would have to say that he succeeded. Women were gradually won over. The company name was changed to Tambrands, Inc. in 1984, and was acquired by Procter & Gamble in 1997 for $1.85B.
Despite the progress in manufacturing feminine hygiene products for women, smear (excuse the pun) jobs against menstrual blood continue on.
A rare citing of a sanitary napkin in literature can be found in TO SIR, WITH LOVE. The novel was originally published in 1959; a well-known movie based on the book with Sidney Poitier as the teacher of the “schoolroom savages” came out in 1967.
At one point the teacher enters his smoke-filled classroom to find some students standing around, laughing and joking, oblivious to a used sanitary napkin that is smouldering in the fireplace. He is “overcome with anger and disgust.” After ejecting the boys, he berates the girls for their “crude language and sluttish behavior.” Then he says the following:
“There are certain things which decent women keep private at all times, and I would have thought that your mother or older sisters would have explained such things to you. Only a filthy slut would’ve dared to do this thing.”
Now, if I’d written this scene, the perspective would’ve been quite different. The teacher (who probably would’ve been a woman) might’ve said something along the lines of “Isn’t it horrible how the toilet inevitably gets clogged if you try to flush your sanitary napkin? You should really use tampons. Not the super-absorbent kind, though, because they can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome. And if your mothers and sisters don’t know about them, tell them how great they are. They’ll get used to inserting them after one or two tries. Believe me, they are so much more convenient! Hey, can we open the window and let some of this smoke out?”