Friday, September 23, 2011


One of the extras that comes with life in a big Japanese city is the freedom from having to buy Kleenex, or pocket tissue because so much of the stuff is handed out free in advertising packets by people on the streets. Not hard to build up a stock of the stuff that will last forever. Naturally, it isn’t the full-sized soft and creamy tissue you can buy in boxes at the drugstore or supermarket, and is probably not very useful for ladies removing make up. But then there must be other deficiencies as well when you start comparing the giveaway tissue with the boxes for sale. Makes you think…

In the historical sense, times of war have been the impetus for countries to power up their industry and to solve the problems not only of bullets and bombs, but also the problems of materiel shortages. In a word, war has a way of spurring the invention of new materials to support something nastily known as the ‘war machine.’ Many of our present day metal alloys, plastics and fabrics were the result of research carried out during periods of war.

Just prior to the start of World War I cotton was in short supply. Imagine for a moment the importance of something like cotton at a time it is needed in so many areas, to fill so many needs. As a result of the cotton shortage in 1914 scientists came up with a new, very absorbent cotton substitute for use as bandages on the battlefield, in hospitals and first-aid stations. The research was carried a step further and produced an even more absorbent material for use as air filters in the gas masks used by infantry. That was a cotton-like wadding produced by Kimberly-Clark called Cellucotton. But then the war ended and the company found itself with warehouses overflowing with a huge surplus of cotton substitute.

Businessmen are not apt to arbitrarily dump warehouses full of unused inventory, so they sought a peacetime use of their new product made redundant by the Treaty of Versailles. They came up with the notion of a glamour product, something that would be endorsed by the stars of Hollywood and Broadway—a tissue that could be used with cold cream to remove make up. It was named Kleenex Kerchiefs and was promoted as a disposable substitute for cloth hand towels. Kimberly-Clark engaged stars like Helen Hays, Gertrude Lawrence and Ronald Colman to do photo advertisements for magazines. The campaign worked and for five years sales steadily rose.

More and more mail came in to Kimberly-Clark praising the product as a perfect disposable handkerchief, and more than something to merely wipe off make up. Men complained that it was not promoted as a manly convenience as well, while women griped that husbands were blowing they noses in their cold cream Kerchiefs. And then an inventor came up with a pop-up tissue box in which separate layers of tissue were folded in a way that allowed one tissue to be extracted, leaving the next tissue ‘popped up’ and ready for pulling out. The new box and its tissue was called Serv-a-Tissue, and almost instantly boosted sales.

Kimberly-Clark began to market their product as disposable handkerchiefs with multiple possibilities for use. An insert placed in Kleenex packages in 1936 listed as many as forty-eight uses for the product. Still, then as now its most popular use has been for blowing the nose.


  1. The best innovation of this wonderful product was the packaging in the small packages that fit nicely in a lady's pocketbook. Everybody loves that convenience......except, of course Queen Elizabeth who would only use a linen handkerchief and certainly she would never ever blow her nose in public.

  2. I've come to depend on Scriblets (among oh so many other things) to provide me with interesting historical facts. It is fun and enlightening to read about the evolution of the everyday things around us. Hopefully though when I reach for a manly tissue, I will not be reminded of the early tissue as a bandage on the battlefield.

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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America