Everyday Origins

The following reprinted from Uncle John's Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader. Some quick stories about the origins of everyday objects.


Believe it or not, the sticky stuff gets its name from an ethnic slur. When two-toned paint jobs became popular in the 1920s, Detroit carmakers asked the 3M Company for an alternative to masking tape that would provide a smooth, sharp edge where the two colors met. 3M came up with 2-inch wide cellophane tape, but auto companies said it was too expensive. So 3M lowered the price by only applying adhesive along the sides of the strip. That caused a problem: the new tape didn’t stick—and company painters complained to the 3M salesman, “Take this tape back to your stingy ‘Scotch’ bosses and tell them to put more adhesive on it!” The name—and the new tape—stuck.


Mary Phelps Jacob, a teenage debutante in 1913, wanted to wear a rose-garlanded dress to a party one evening. But, as she later explained, her corset cover “kept peeping through the roses around my bosom.” So she took it off, pinned two handkerchiefs together, and tied them behind her back with some ribbon. “The result was delicious,” she later recalled. “I could move much more freely, a nearly naked feeling.” The contraption eventually became known as a brassière—a name borrowed from the corset cover it replaced. (Jacob later became famous for riding naked through the streets of Paris on an elephant.)


Regular knives first had their points rounded and their sharp edges dulled for use at the dinner table in 1669. According to Margaret Visser, author of The Rituals of Dinner, this was done “apparently to prevent their use as ‘toothpicks,’ but probably also to discourage assassinations at meals.”


Several Swiss watchmakers began attaching small watches to bracelets in 1790. Those early watches weren’t considered serious timepieces, and they remained strictly a women’s item until World War I, when armies recognized their usefulness in battle and began issuing them to servicemen instead of the traditional pocket watch.


Ancient fork (Image Credit: Chambers' Book of Days)

Before forks became popular, the difference between refined and common people was the number of fingers they ate with. The upper classes used three; everyone else used five. This began to change in the 11th century, when tiny, two-pronged forks became fashionable in Italian high society. But they didn’t catch on; the Catholic Church opposed them as unnatural (it was an insult to imply that the fingers God gave us weren’t good enough for food), and people who used them were ridiculed as effeminate or pretentious. Forks weren’t generally considered polite until the 18th century—some 800 years after they were first introduced.


In 1959 a mechanical engineer named Ermal Cleon Fraze was at a picnic when he realized he’d forgotten a can opener. No one else had one either, so he had to use the bumper guard of his car to open a can of soda. It took half an hour, and he vowed he’d never get stuck like that again. He patented the world’s first practical pull-top can later that year, and three years later, the Pittsburgh Brewing Company tried using it on its Iron City Beer. Now every beer company does.


Mass-produced magnets designed for refrigerators didn’t appear until 1964. They were invented by John Arnasto and his wife Arlene, who sold a line of decorative wall hooks. Arlene thought it would be cute to have a hook for refrigerator doors, so John made one with a magnet backing. The first one had a small bell and was shaped like a tea kettle. It sold well, so the Arnastos added dozens of other versions to their lines. Believe it or not, some of the rare originals are worth more than $100.


Toothpaste wasn’t packaged in collapsible tubes until 1892, when Dr. Washington Wentworth Sheffield, a Connecticut dentist, copied the idea from a tube of oil-based paint. Increasing interest in sanitation and hygiene made the new invention more popular than jars of toothpaste, which mingled germs from different brushes. Toothpaste tubes became the standard almost overnight.

Reprinted from Uncle John’s Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader. ©1999 by the Bathroom Reader’s Press.

The article above is reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader. This special edition book covers the three "lost" Bathroom Readers - Uncle John's 5th, 6th and 7th book all in one. The huge (and hugely entertaining) volume covers neat stories like the Strange Fate of the Dodo Bird, the Secrets of Mona Lisa, and more... Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. Check out their website here: Bathroom Reader Institute

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The "pull tab" photo seems to be from wikipedia article on the beverage can. Good pickup by rick that the picture features a "stay-tab" rather than the pull tab.
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actually knowing a little about painting, to 'scotch' paintwork is to rub it with a light abrasive so the next coat will adhere properly.
so 'scotch' tape is used to mask off an area you wish to 'scotch' and then paint.
sorry for being a spoil sport.
however no idea why rubbing down paintwork is called scotching
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