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“Even Superheros must brush their teeth”

Engineering In History

In the UK, William Addis is believed to have produced the first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780. In 1770, he had been jailed for causing a riot. While in prison he decided that using a rag with soot and salt on the teeth was ineffective and could be improved. After saving a small bone from a meal, he drilled small holes into the bone and tied into the bone tufts of bristles that he had obtained from one of the guards, passed the tufts of bristle through the holes in the bone and sealed the holes with glue. After his release, he became wealthy after starting a business manufacturing toothbrushes. He died in 1808, bequeathing the business to his eldest son. It remained within family ownership until 1996.Under the name Wisdom Toothbrushes, the company now manufactures 70 million toothbrushes per year in the UK. By 1840 toothbrushes were being mass-produced in Britain, France, Germany, and Japan. Pig bristles were used for cheaper toothbrushes and badger hair for the more expensive ones.

Hertford Museum in Hertford, UK, holds approximately 5000 brushes that make up part of the Addis Collection. The Addis factory on Ware Road was a major employer in the town until 1996. Since the closure of the factory, Hertford Museum has received photographs and documents relating to the archive, and collected oral histories from former employees.

The first patent for a toothbrush was granted to H.N. Wadsworth in 1857 (U.S.A. Patent No. 18,653) in the United States, but mass production in the United States did not start until 1885. The improved design had a bone handle with holes bored into it for the Siberian boar hair bristles. Unfortunately, animal bristle was not an ideal material as it retained bacteria, did not dry efficiently and the bristles often fell out. In addition to bone, handles were made of wood or ivory. In the United States, brushing teeth did not become routine until after World War II, when American soldiers had to clean their teeth daily.

During the 1900s, celluloid gradually replaced bone handles.Natural animal bristles were also replaced by synthetic fibers, usually nylon, by DuPont in 1938. The first nylon bristle toothbrush made with nylon yarn went on sale on February 24, 1938. The first electric toothbrush, the Broxodent, was invented in Switzerland in 1954. By the turn of the 21st century nylon had come to be widely used for the bristles and the handles were usually molded from thermoplastic materials.

Johnson & Johnson, a leading medical supplies firm, introduced the "Reach" toothbrush in 1977. It differed from previous toothbrushes in three ways: it had an angled head, similar to dental instruments, to reach back teeth; the bristles were concentrated more closely than usual to clean each tooth of potentially cariogenic (cavity-causing) materials; and the outer bristles were longer and softer than the inner bristles. Other manufacturers soon followed with other designs aimed at improving effectiveness. In spite of the changes with the number of tufts and the spacing, the handle form and design, the bristles were still straight and difficult to maneuver. In 1978 Dr. George C. Collis developed the Collis Curve toothbrush which was the first toothbrush to have curved bristles. The curved bristles follow the curvature of the teeth and safely reach in between the teeth and into the sulcular areas.

Patented in 1985, curved bristles allow for safe and easy brushing of teeth and gingival sulcus.

In January 2003, the toothbrush was selected as the number one invention Americans could not live without according to the Lemelson-MIT Invention Index.

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