Imagine the first person who created a toothbrush.
Better yet – imagine life before a toothbrush. Think about it: Getting your mouth minty-fresh wasn’t exactly easy if you all had were twigs or rags. It was the same thing with clean hair, unspoiled leftovers and clean bathrooms, as you’ll learn in “Brief Histories of Everyday Objects” by Andy Warner. Andy Warner presents his book in quick chapters of illustrated facts, offered in small bites of truth and funny bits of invented dialogue. We get a good understanding of each main subject and a few follow-up facts to sweeten the enjoyment of a book like this.
Scientists say you do your best thinking in the shower.
That’s where Andy Warner was on the morning he was trying to “come up with an idea for a comic.” Sadly, there wasn’t much story in a showerhead, but his toothbrush turned out to be a pretty interesting thing. It also opened the door to more.
Take shampoo, for instance.
Yes, people washed their hair prior to the 1860s, but Sarah Breedlove saw a need for a special hair formula. Prior to Breedlove’s hair-care products, African American women used goose fat to tame their locks. Breedlove’s concoction (it should go without saying) worked a lot better.
Or how about shaving? King Gillette (his real first name, not a British title) made a fortune, but not from razors. He sold those at a loss but got rich from the disposable blades that went inside those razors. Genius marketing, no?
The toilet you used this morning got its start in the 12th century in Baghdad. Kitty litter began as place for hens to lay their eggs. The guy who invented the modern safety pin sold the idea for a lousy $400. Six-sided dice are ancient things, at least 5,000 years old. A German woman invented coffee filters, but she had a string of bad luck for the rest of her life. Because of war and more war, she lost her factory twice. The man who invented traffic lights was the son of former slaves. Ballpoint pens were considered a luxury, and they sold for more than $12 each. Some 14 million trees become paper bags each year in the U.S. And paper clips? They were once a symbol of defiance against the Nazis.
Warner admits in his introduction that “Brief Histories of Everyday Objects” is “as true as [he] could get it,” some dubious factoids might make you say, “Hmm.” Happily, there’s a bibliography included, so go ahead and look things up. That’s part of the appeal of this book.