It’s cold outside and the need to blow my nose increased visibly with the drop in temperature. I’m probably not alone, taking a walk, blowing my nose here and there, especially with the face masks. Winter is harsh. But…
Who Invented Kleenex?
First things first, I’m saying Kleenex, but it’s one of those “brand name instead of product name” cases. When I’m talking Kleenex, I’m really talking about facial tissue (or paper tissue), soft, absorbent, disposable papers quite useful for the expulsion of nasal mucus from the nose.
So, Kleenex is a brand name. We know it for a variety of paper-based products such as facial tissue, of course, but also bathroom tissue, paper towels, tampons, and diapers.
And, to answer the first question, the name Kleenex is a registered trademark of Kimberly-Clark—the American multinational personal care corporation founded in 1872 by John A. Kimberly, Havilah Babcock, Charles B. Clark, and Franklyn C. Shattuck in Neenah, Wisconsin.
In 1914, The Kimberly-Clark company developed a cotton substitute used by the U.S. Army as surgical cotton during World War I, the cellucotton. Soon army nurses started to use cellucotton pads as disposable sanitary napkins which led (six years later) to the introduction of Kotex, the first disposable feminine hygiene product (but this is another article). Kleenex came soon after, in 1924.
How did Kimberly-Clark invent Kleenex?
It was World War I, and cotton was in short supply. There was a need for a substitute, especially at first to be used as filters for gas masks. Kimberly-Clark developed a crepe paper for that. During the creping process, the paper was “micro-folded” in order to break down its rigidity and to increase its volume. As a result, the paper now called cellucotton became softer and more absorbent.
On the ground, the cellucoton became used for more than its initial purpose. In fact, the leftover cellucoton became bandages. The way the army nurses started to use them led the company to launch, in 1920, the first disposable feminine hygiene product under the brand name “Kotex”—the name came from an employee noticing the “cotton-like texture” of the paper, it was abbreviated “cot-tex.”
The reason why Kimberly-Clark started to develop those new products was to find a use for the huge surpluses of Cellucotton in their warehouses. The company needed to adapt to peacetime. After Kotex, other products followed.
At first, Kleenex was launched as a tissue to remove cold cream. Trademarked in 1924, the name is a combination of “Kleen,” which suggests the cleansing purpose of the product, and the “ex” was a way to connect it to Kotex. A little bit of brand association.
Kimberly-Clark didn’t really invent facial tissue, Chinese did in a way—as it’s often the case (cf. a lot of articles published on this website). Of course, Kleenex is not simply paper, it’s Cellucotton. It was a “disposable handkerchief” aka the Kleenex Kerchief, and the ads told us that it was used by Hollywood and Broadway stars to remove makeup (stars like Jean Harlow and Helen May endorsed the product).
When did the cold cream remover start replacing the handkerchief?
If you believe the official history published on the Kleenex webpage: “In 1929, Kimberly-Clark’s head researcher was suffering from hay fever and started using the tissues in place of his handkerchief.”
In reality, it seems that the idea came from the consumers. Some started writing to the company to complain about the way their husbands used the Kleenex Kerchief to blow their noses. Coincidentally, it was when a Chicago-based inventor created a pop-up tissue box. Kimberly-Clark put their Kleenex in the new boxes and started advertising the second usage for their tissues.
Soon enough, more than half of the consumers used Kleenex for their noses. It became “The handkerchief you can throw away!”
After that, the product evolved with time, but it’s still the most famous of its kind to the point of giving its name to the product itself.