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Different Strokes for Different Folks: A History of the Toothbrush

    The Pro-phy-lac-tic toothbrush

    One of the first factories to produce American-made toothbrushes was the Florence Manufacturing Company established in Massachusetts in 1866 as a maker of various household brushes. In 1888 they began selling what became the popular Pro-phy-lac-tic toothbrush based on a patented design and trademark acquired from New York dentist Dr Meyer L Rhein. The toothbrush featured three rows of serrated bristles with longer end tufts. Distinctive traits included a concave head tapered toward the end and a handle embossed with a distinct number or symbol to help family members distinguish their individual brushes. A hole at the handle end, for hanging the brush to dry the highly water-absorbent, hollow bristles, discouraged bacterial growth and made the brush more hygienic. As the enduring toothbrush of choice, yearly average sales, encouraged by an annual advertising outlay around $500,000, reached 7.5 million from 1924 to 1933, and the brush remained in demand until the mid-1970s.

    Hyson, Jr, JM 2003 History of the toothbrush. J Hist Dent 51(2):73-80; Mattick, BE 2010 A Guide to Bone Toothbrushes of the 19th and Early 20th Centuries. Bloomington, IN: Xlibris Corp; Segrave, K 2010 America Brushes Up, the Use of Marketing of Toothpaste and Toothbrushes in the Twentieth Century. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company; Wolf, W 1966 A history of personal oral hygiene — customs, methods and instruments — yesterday, today, tomorrow. Bull Hist Dent 14(4):54-66

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