Deep Dive: Exploring the Exhibits
Toothbrush (ca. 1860)
This toothbrush was manufactured in France by A. Dupont, most likely in the late 1800’s. The bone handle is decorated with a Fleur-de-lis at one end and has four rows of drilled holes that once held boar hair bristles (long since decayed) at the other end.
The first bristle toothbrushes appear to originate in China in the late 1400’s. These brushes were made with stiff tufts of wild boar’s hair that were attached to handles made of bone or bamboo. In Europe, William Addis is believed to have developed the first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780. Addis’ interest in toothbrushes was sparked while serving time in jail for rioting in 1770. Drilling small holes into a bone he saved from a meal, he passed tufts of boar bristle through the holes and sealed the holes with glue. The result was so successful, that, after his release, he made a fortune manufacturing toothbrushes. By 1840 toothbrushes were being mass-produced in Britain and France, while production in the United States didn’t commence until 1885. Boar bristles continued to be used until 1938 when a shortage of bristles was caused by the war between Japan and China (the leading source of bristles). Boar bristles were replaced by nylon bristles, developed by the E. I.Dupont de Nemours Company.
Tooth brushing has become such a fundamental part of our daily routine that it is sometimes easy to forget that regular tooth brushing was not popular in the United States until soldiers returned home from World War II.