First official toothbrush not for the masses


Q: Most of us probably take toothbrushes and toothpaste (oral dentifrice) pretty much for granted. But have you ever wondered when they got their start and what they were first made out of?

A: Toothbrush No. 1 was likely a twig or finger, but the first "real" toothbrush was by businessman William Addis in 1780, made of horsehair and bone, says Holly Oldfield in "The Secret Museum: Some Treasures Are Too Precious to Display." During World War I, troops were issued toothbrushes, and once they learned these were not for cleaning their boots, many took them home to show their families. Soon the idea caught on, prices plummeted and everybody could afford one. (Some early ones were so expensive they were shared by the entire family.)

The first toothpaste was made out of ox hooves, myrrh, eggshells or pumice mixed together and rubbed on with a finger. Early dentifrice -- French for toothpaste -- came in a round block that users just scraped with a toothbrush; dentifrice usually was flavorless but Queen Victoria, fascinated with teeth, liked hers cherry flavored. "Dr. Sheffield’s Creme Dentifrice" became the first to appear in tubes in 1892. "When Dr. Sheffield’s son was studying in Paris, he watched artists painting with tubes of paint and had the flash of inspiration ..."

Q:What did the U.S. Supreme Court have to say about the next fruit you’ll be eating?

A:That it won’t be a tomato because by a 1893 ruling, tomatoes are vegetables, say Amanda Green and Matt Soniak in "Mental Floss" magazine. When Congress instituted a 10 percent tariff on vegetable imports in 1883, produce merchants were peeved. One New York family, particularly enraged over taxes on a shipment of tomatoes, initiated a lawsuit that ended up before the Supreme Court. It ruled against the family, concluding that while tomatoes are technically fruits, they are served more at dinner than as dessert like other fruits.

The message was clear. Legally tomatoes are vegetables -- a designation that drives botanists crazy. "But this decision isn’t going anywhere: The best we can hope for is that everyone handles the situation as gracefully as Arkansas has. The south Arkansas vine ripe pink tomato is both the state’s official fruit and official vegetable."

Q: "Paindrops keep falling on your head ..." What’s "New Scientist" magazine up to with a headline like that?

A: Both the size and the falling speed of a given raindrop will affect the pain it inflicts, wrote science teacher David Muir of Edinburgh, UK. In practice, drops bigger than about five millimeters (mm) break apart due to air resistance; a five-mm-diameter drop reaches terminal velocity of around nine meters per second, depending on temperature and humidity. This means that, beyond a certain point, the height from which a drop falls has no bearing on the pain it can impart.

Muir found that a four-mm-diameter drop falling two floors into a puddle produces a splash or "bounce" of about 50 mm, from four floors about 150 mm and six floors just over 200 mm -- this last not surprising since drops probably reach terminal velocity after falling about five floors.

"Our experiments show that a drop four mm in diameter falling six floors onto skin feels like being hit by grains of rice from a few meters away; five-mm drops have slightly greater terminal velocity but are almost twice as heavy. This means they have about twice as much energy and are mildly painful when falling onto skin from six floors up.

"Thanks to bald colleagues for their assistance."

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at


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