When you discover the primitive options your sisters used in times gone, you’ll appreciate modern advancements even more. Access a wide variety of today’s feminine care products online for one-stop shopping convenience.
Menstrual Product Milestones
Ancient times:Egyptian women used softened papyrus for tampons. Greeks wrapped lint around wood. Romans made pads and tampons from soft wool. In other parts of the world, sea sponges, seaweed, moss, grass, vegetable fibers, animal pelts, and paper absorbed menstrual flow.
1939: Charles Goodyear invented the technology to vulcanize rubber. Companies used it to manufacture intrauterine devices (IUDs), diaphragms, douching syringes, and condoms.
1850s: Inventors patented menstrual bandages and sacks. They made receptacles out of springs, wires, buttons, flaps, elastic straps, valves, and girdles. Few went on sale.
1873: The Comstock Act made distributing or selling pornography and conception-related materials or text a federal crime in the United States. So the birth-control industry coined the term feminine hygiene to advertise repackaged over-the-counter (OTC) products.
1896: Johnson & Johnson named Lister’s Towels, the first commercial sanitary pads, after Joseph Lister, a sterile surgery pioneer. Too avant-garde for the prudish times, sales tanked.
Early 20th century: American women made homemade pads from bird’s eye, the baby diaper material. They pinned these absorbent cotton rags to their underwear or homemade muslin belts. Sanitary bloomers and aprons were available by mail to protect clothing from staining — not to absorb blood flow.
1911: Midol went on sale as a headache and toothache remedy. Eventually, it became a menstrual pain reliever.
World War I: When nurses in France realized that the cellulose bandages they used on wounded soldiers absorbed blood much better than plain cotton, they adopted them for their own flow.
1920s: Kotex, a blend of “cotton” and “texture,” introduced disposable sanitary napkins. While a big step forward in convenience, they were bulky and required reusable sanitary belts. Kimberly-Clark encouraged stores to display Kotex on counters with discreet moneyboxes so customers didn’t need to say “sanitary napkins” or “menstruation” aloud. Women’s underwear went from open to closed crotched, which held belts and pads in place better.
1927: Johnson & Johnson introduced Modess, Kotex’s major competitor in a field of hundreds of sanitary pad manufacturers.
1930-1960: For years, women used Lysol disinfectant, the kitchen and bathroom cleanser, as a female contraceptive. Even though it didn’t prevent pregnancy, ads touted it as “a feminine hygiene product for married women,” code for birth control. A similar brand, Zonite, played on women’s fears of feminine odor.
1930s: Lenoa Chalmers patented and produced the first reusable vulcanized rubber menstrual cup. Due to the popularity of disposable pads, few women wanted to store their blood until they could empty it.
1931: Dr. Earle Haas applied for the first tampon patent that incorporated an applicator. Gertrude Tendrich bought the patent for $32,000 and founded Tampax in 1933. At first, she made tampons at home, using a sewing machine and Dr. Haas’ compression machine.
1940s: The launch of the “Modess … because” print campaign turned menstrual advertising into a showcase for high-end couture and fashion photography.
1950s: Pursettes, a nonapplicator tampon with a lubricated tip, went on sale. Tampon cases sold separately allowed teenage girls, their target audience, to hide tampons in their purses.
1951: While the Catholic Church was opposed to artificial birth control adamantly, Pope Pius XII announced that it sanctioned the rhythm method.
1959: Menstrual cups got a second chance when Tassette reintroduced them with a big advertising push. Women still weren’t interested, so this method disappeared again.
1960: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Enovid, the first birth control pill, which revolutionized contraception and jump-started the sexual revolution.
1969: Stayfree mini pads, the first to incorporate adhesive strips, signaled the end of belts, clips, and safety pins for millions of women.
1971: Lorraine Rothman and Carol Downer toured the country, encouraging women to join self-help groups that extracted each other’s menses. The goal was to reduce the duration of monthly periods, but fertilized egg removal also was possible. This movement was very popular, and proponents performed over 20,000 procedures. After Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in 1973, menstrual extractions waned.
1972: Kimberly-Clark joined the beltless generation with New Freedom pads. The National Association of Broadcasters lifted its ban on television advertising of sanitary napkins, tampons, and douches. In the Eisenstadt v. Baird case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state (Massachusetts, in this instance) couldn’t prohibit the sale of contraceptives to unmarried women.
1975: Rely tampons touted that they even absorbed the worry. After the Centers for Disease Control linked the tampons to deadly toxic shock syndrome, Proctor & Gamble took Rely off the market in 1980.
1987: Another incarnation of the reusable menstrual cup, the Keeper entered the market. It was somewhat successful and still is available today.
1990s: Fresh ‘n’ Fit Padettes for light days went on sale. Women tucked these super mini pads horizontally between their labia folds. Studies showed that women were enthusiastic about them initially, but they disappeared quickly.
2003: The FDA approved Seasonale, the first continuous birth-control pill. It also suppresses periods, so women have just four per year.
2007: In another convenience breakthrough, the FDA approved Lybrel, the first birth-control pill that eliminates periods altogether.
Today: Disposable tampons and contoured pads for various flow control are the most common menstrual absorbent products that women use today.