The same could be said about inventors and their inventions. It
seems that every invention, no matter how mundane, has something
interesting about it. We proved that two weeks ago with the story of
the invention of the paper clip. [Related
This week's invention was developed at the beginning
of World War I. Its purpose was to replace a material that was used
as a surgical dressing but was in short supply. The material was
harvested in the South, and the new finished product was originally
designed to be a gas mask filter.
The material was cotton, and the material from which the
invention is made was originally called "Cellucotton."
This Cellucotton invention has since gone on to become a
successful product all over the world for the Kimberly-Clark
Corporation, but not as a surgical dressing.
It was invented in 1924 and was promoted by actresses Helen Hayes
and Jean Harlow. Both of these actresses are long gone, but they
were popular back in their day.
The product was originally marketed as a cleaning tissue to do
such tasks as remove cold cream. It is now manufactured in 19
countries, but not as a way of removing cold cream.
In its earliest years, it was marketed in Canada as a
handkerchief replacement. It is now sold in more than 150 countries,
but not as a handkerchief replacement.
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In the 1930s, customers started writing to the company to say that the
product helped them cope with their hay fever and colds. But it didn't
prevent hay fever or colds, nor did it cure them.
The product's name is so good that there is even a band that copied its
Here's one more clue: In Dutch, its name is translated as "papieren
zakdoekje." OK, I will admit that isn't much of a clue.
Its name is so well-known that it has become a generic term in
popular usage, kind of like what has happened with the name of the
Xerox copying machine, the Coke brand of soda or Kleenex facial
That's right, the product originally known as Cellucotton, which
replaced the material that was used as a surgical dressing, the one
that was originally designed to serve as a gas mask filter, became
known as Kleenex.
It has remained the top-selling brand of facial tissue in the
world since its launch in 1924. Despite Kimberly-Clark's efforts to
prevent the Kleenex brand name from becoming a generic name, it
seems that any kind of facial tissue is always going to be known as
Paul Niemann may be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2006