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Though it was Forster who at the time nearly singlehandedly established a growing market for mass-produced wooden toothpicks, there were a few others jockeying to get into the game. In 1869, Alphons Krizek, of Philadelphia, received a patent for an “improvement in toothpicks,” which featured a hooked end with spoon-shaped mechanism designed to clean out hollow and sensitive teeth. Other attempted “improvements” include a case for a retractable toothpick and a scented coating meant to freshen one’s breath.

Towards the end of the 19 th century, there were literally billions of toothpicks made each year. In 1887, the count got as high as five billion toothpicks, with Forster accounting for more than half of them. And by the end of the century, there was one factory in Maine that was already making that many. With the commercialized ubiquity of disposable wooden toothpicks, the concept of the toothpick as status symbol, which stubbornly persisted well into 19 th century, would slowly begin to fade. Silver and gold toothpicks, once immensely popular amongst society’s most well-heeled elites, were increasingly turned in as donations at fundraisers. But that doesn’t mean a toothpick’s usefulness was simply relegated to oral hygiene. Most people, for instance, are familiar with the use of toothpicks in social settings where eau d'oeuvres and other finger foods are served.

Yet they’ve also proved capable of pinning down overstuffed deli sandwiches, cleaning dirt from underneath fingernails, and even picking locks. While the standard toothpick of today remains essentially unchanged from the ones Forster was cranking out over a century ago, entrepreneurs still seek to improve upon its very basic iteration. One early attempt by Forster and others to make them more appealing was the introduction of flavored toothpicks. Popular flavors included cinnamon, wintergreen, and sassafras. For a time, there were even liquor flavors, such as Scotch and Bourbon. Inventors have also tested other coatings such as imbuing sticks with zinc as a disinfectant. Another therapeutic approach involved combining a toothpick and a gum massager. Others have tried tinkering with the shape by making the center square as a way to prevent rolling when dropped while some newer ones claim to offer enhanced cleaning ability with the addition of brush-like bristles to the head. Though such efforts to build a better toothpick may arguably yield some advantages, there's something about the toothpick’s modest simplicity that makes it so users don't have much of a desire to deviate. A disposable, cheap object with a simple design that achieves its desired goal, you really couldn’t ask for more — as a consumer or as a manufacturer. Charles Forster of Strong, Maine, is believed to be the first American to manufacture toothpicks. His first were handmade, but by 1860, he had to devise machines to keep up with the growing demand. The toothpick making machine allowed blocks of wood to be cut into toothpicks. A complete toothpick machine system would include a veneer lathe, six cutting machines, one drying oven, and one straightening and box filling machine. Charles Forster 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. Throughout history, toothpicks were made out of numerous materials including ivory, porcupine quill, chicken bones, gold, silver steel and yes, even wood. Legend would have it, that he sent a sample box home to his wife who showed them around. Foster had orders for more, especially from hotels and restaurants. 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. 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. 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. 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. I guess they're making toothpicks in Japan:( "Pick not thy teeth with thy knyfe, but take a stick, or some clean thyng, then doe you not offend" (Rhodes: 15 century philosopher) Before man devised the axe he may have invented the toothpick! 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 either flossed with blades of grass or picked with rudimentary toothpick tools. Similar markings have been found in the fossilized teeth of both American Indians and Australian Aborigines. If a tiny piece of food gets lodged between your teeth during a meal, the natural thing to do is to remove it. While such an act is taboo in Western settings, it is tolerated in a Malaysian environment. In China, a curved pendant, made of cast bronze was worn around the neck and used as a toothpick.

In 536 BC, the Chinese mandated a law that required the use of the toothpick because their armies suffered from bad breath. The people of China also used the branch of the willow tree, a spicebush, a cedar, a peach tree, or bamboo as a toothpick.


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