Design Moment: Q-tip, 1923

Leo Gerstenzang’s invention was initially called Baby Gays

Manufacturing of Q-tips cotton swabs is  returning to the use of paper sticks.

Manufacturing of Q-tips cotton swabs is returning to the use of paper sticks.

 

Inventor Leo Gerstenzang (1892-1973), a Polish immigrant to the US invented the Q-tip in 1923 – although the product was originally called Baby Gays. Design lore has it that he got the idea while watching his wife applying wads of cotton to toothpicks while cleaning their baby. He marketed his invention – a white cotton swab on a wooden stick – through his own firm, the Infant Novelty Company and under the name Q-tips Baby Gays. The “Q” stands for quality and later the Baby Gays part of the name was dropped.

Plastic vs wood

In the 1950s, the design changed when Gerstenzang bought a company that manufactured rigid paper sticks and in more recent times the much copied Q-tips have been made with plastic sticks – a fact that has significantly damaged their appeal due to the impact of plastic waste on marine life. Manufacturing of the cotton swabs is now returning to the use of paper sticks. Although, as ever, no matter how much the design tempts it – best to adhere to the golden rule and never put anything smaller than your elbow into your ear.