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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Toothpick Day

via USPTO

The first machine for the manufacturing of toothpicks, was patented on February 20, 1872, by Silas Noble and J.P. Cooley, of Granville, Massachusetts.

"Pick not thy teeth with thy knyfe, but take a stick, or some clean thyng, then doe you not offend"
(Rhodes: 15th century philosopher)

Toothpicks & "Playing The Harmonica"

(:toothpicks & picking one's teeth:)

Charles Forster, the man who "Fathered the Toothpick Industry in America, came up with the idea of manufacturing disposable wooden toothpicks while on a trip to South America, where he saw natives using slivers of wood to clean their teeth.

When quite a young man, Charles Forster, a Buckfield [Maine] native, went to Brazil as captain of a schooner owned by L. L. Tower and others of Boston, remaining for several years, and while there became interested in watching some of the natives whittling toothpicks from Spanish willow. In 1865 he went to Boston where he entered the employ of the B. F. Sturtevant Co., who were then manufacturers of wooden shoe pegs which were made by a process similar to that now used for the manufacture of toothpicks.

Watching the shoe pegs as they came in a stream from the choppers gave him the idea that toothpicks could also be produced in large numbers by the same or similar process and after due time he suggested to Mr. Sturtevant that they make some and put them on the market. Mr. Sturtevant smiled at the idea of trying to sell "slivers of wood" but he allowed Mr. Forster the use of some of his machines and also allowed space in a building owned by Mr. Sturtevant on Sudbury street in Boston, and one of his men (Mr. Freeman) to assist him. (Dixfield Historical Society)

As luck would have it, after Charles Forster sent a sample box home of toothpicks to his wife, who showed them around to all her neighbors and friends, Mr. Foster had orders for more toothpicks than he could send. He set up a factory in Strong, Maine and machinery was developed to peel blocks of wood into long, thin ribbons. An 1/8 block of wood could produce a ribbon 90 feet in length. These ribbons were cut into toothpicks, which were moved by pitchfork into the sun to dry like hay. Then they were sorted and packed by hand. The toothpicks were constructed of only the finest polished white birch. In it's heyday, the toothpick manufacturing plant used about 1,000 cords of birch and poplar. How many toothpicks is that you ask? According to Smithsonian Magazine, Forster created a market for disposable toothpicks by having Harvard students eat at local restaurants, then loudly demand a toothpick after finishing their meals.

The toothpick was first used in the United States at the Union Oyster House. Enterprising Charles Forster of Maine first imported the picks from South America. To promote his new business he hired Harvard boys to dine at the Union Oyster House and ask for toothpicks. (Union Oyster House History)

At one time, the state of Maine manufactured 90% of the countries toothpicks and Forster Manufacturing was the world's largest producer of toothpicks. Unfortunately, "The Toothpick Capital of the World" rolled out their last toothpick on April 29, 2003.

The toothpick has been around longer than our species. In the Old Testament, it is written that "one may take a splinter from the wood lying near him to clean his teeth." The skulls of Neanderthals, as well as Homo sapiens, have shown clear signs of having teeth that were picked with a tool, according to anthropologist Christy G. Turner of Arizona State University. Since ancient times, men of note have used toothpicks. Agathocles, tyrant of Syracuse, died in 289 B.C. when he used a toothpick soaked in poison by an enemy. The prophet Muhammad assigned the care of this important tool to a servant called the "master of the toothpick." (Smithsonian Magazine)

At one time, you could tell a person's status by what they used to pick their teeth. Kings, queens, and lords picked their teeth with "designer" toothpicks made from gold, silver, or ivory and inlaid with precious stones. Often, they were inlaid with precious stones. Twigs and porcupine quills were most often used by the "lower classes." By the 17th century, the toothpick was the latest fad for the educated classes in Europe they were even included in traveling sets together with a knife and spoon. In France, for example, toothpicks were served with desserts, usually poked into fruit to be handy following a meal. After they were used, they could be placed behind the ear for future use. "Chew sticks" became so popular that books on etiquette such as Tanhausers Court Manners often included advice on the proper use and acceptance of the toothpick. Picking your teeth during a meal was an absolute taboo. It could cause a person to be black listed from future social functions and cause a whirl of gossip. Even today, the toothpick hanging out the side of the mouth is found to be quite offensive and picking your teeth in public is still best to avoid.

Toothbrush History:

Although toothpicks have a long history as civilization's primary tooth-cleaning instrument, the earliest known oral hygiene tool was most likely a toothbrush. The western world abandoned toothpicks in the 1700s as the evolution of the toothbrush took hold. Toothpicks matured into the chew stick which were about the size of a modern pencil. One end was chewed into and became softened and brush-like while the opposite end was pointed and used as a pick to clean food and debris from between the teeth. The twigs used were carefully chosen from aromatic trees that had the ability to clean and freshen the mouth.

revised February 2013

Resources

  • 1. In Praise of the Toothpick
  • 2. A Cool Tool
  • 3. Toothpicks & Maine
  • 4. Collecting Toothpick Holders
  • 5. Collecting Toothpick Dispensers
  • 6. Amazing Carved & Painted Toothpicks
  • 7. A School Project
  • 8. All About Toothpicks @ The Old Foodie

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Thanks for dropping in...Louise