Facial tissues were originally invented for a completely different purpose than what we use them for today. They were used as bandages and also as filters for gas masks in World War I.
In 1914, Ernst Mahler, head of Kimberly-Clark’s research and engineering department came across a creped cellulose wadding while touring pulp and paper mills in Europe. He was impressed with this cotton substitute made from processed wood pulp. It was five times as absorbent as cotton and was inexpensive. He trademarked the material under the name Cellucotton after returning to the U.S.
During World War I, Mahler convinced the U.S. surgeon general that Cellucotton could be used as a surgical cotton dressing in treating war wounds. This idea was readily accepted and thus Cellucotton came to be used in bandages during the war. Red cross nurses also found an innovative use for Cellucotton. They used the super absorbent bandages as sanitary napkins. A flattened form of Cellucotton which was also developed by Kimberly-Clark was used as filters in the gas masks.
In 1918, after the world war came to an end, Kimberly-Clark had a surplus of Cellucotton and they started researching on other possible commercial applications of the material. In 1924, Kimberly-Clark introduced its first facial tissue under the name Kleenex. It is interesting to note that Kleenex was initially promoted as a product to remove cream and makeup. It soon gained popularity among Hollywood actors who would use it to remove their makeup. Some actresses like Helen Hayes and Jean Harlow even endorsed the product.
Although Kleenex was introduced as a cream remover, Kimberly-Clark soon found that people were using it as a disposable handkerchief. In 1926, a review taken a newspaper in Peoria, Illinois found that 60% of the users used it for blowing their nose. Kimberly-Clark immediately changed their marketing strategy and started promoting Kleenex as ‘the handkerchief you can throw away’. Sales of Kleenex doubled within a year of changing the campaign.
In 1928, pop-up tissue carton with a perforated opening was introduced. Soon, Kimberly-Clark also introduced colored and printed Kleenex tissues.
- Book: 1001 Inventions That Changed The World – Paper Tissues, Pg. 595