There are plenty of everyday products with bizarre origin stories, from Viagra's initial development as a treatment for heart disease to Play-Doh's first foray as a wallpaper cleaner. There are others, though, whose genesis came about under much more sordid circumstances.
To clue you in, we dug up 10 seemingly innocuous household items whose beginnings were much darker than you'd imagine. Spoiler: graham crackers will never taste the same.
Origin: A gas mask filter
Before you were using them to blow your nose and clean up after yourself, these iconic facial tissues were originally developed to function as disposable gas mask filters during World War I. According to Kimberly-Clark's own account of the history, the material used in Kleenex—a malleable and thin cellu-cotton—was found a remarkable effective cotton substitute for dressing both wounds and filtering air coming into gas masks.
2. Graham crackers
Origin: Anti-masturbation collation
The tasty and crumby s'mores bookends weren't always just a delicious midday snack. In fact, they were first introduced by the eponymous Presbytarian minister Sylvester Graham as part of a special diet that was meant to curb "carnal urges," which he attributed to many maladies of the day. There was a popular theory of the era that speculated that you could reduce your sexual appetite by simply eating bland food. It didn't. Sorry, Sly.
Origin: Powerful antiseptic... AND....
Before it was used to obliterate your stank morning breath, Listerine mouthwash was originally developed as a surgical-grade antiseptic. But it was also marketed as a floor cleaner, and was even used to keep the promiscuous masses of the 19th Century clap-free.
Origin: Its founder started a crazy, religious sex commune
Before it was the behemoth silverware maker it is today, Oneida was a religious commune in upstate New York, founded by the radical philosopher and utopian socialist John Humphrey Noye, who promoted free love and a variety of unusual contraception methods. Making silverware was simply a side business to generate money, and he was only able to turn it into the operation it is today thanks to a shift in focus brought about by the commune's decline.
Origin: Torture device
Ever been suffering on treadmill at the gym and thought to yourself, "man this machine is straight-up evil?" Well, it turns out you're right. See, the modern-day treadmill is an evolved version of the treadwheel, which was basically an energy-producing human-sized hamster wheel that served as a form of punishment and penal labor during the early Victorian period in Britain.
Origin: Invented by the "father of chemical warfare"
While half the world's food supply comes from crops grown with some sort of ammonia fertilizer Fritz Haber pioneered, his efforts and intelligence were also used for evil. During World War I, the German chemist spent a good deal of time developing and weaponizing poison gas— specifically chlorine—which led some declaring him a war criminal.
7. Magnetic tape
Origin: Nazi broadcast technology
While modern technology has sprinted far ahead of this unique recording method, found in everything from reel-to-reel recorders to cassette tapes, it was state-of-the-art back when the Nazis developed it to record and rebroadcast their radio addresses. It wasn't until the war ended that the Allies were able to bring the technology out of Germany and make it commercially viable.
Origin: A homicidal Chinese father
According to ancient Chinese lore, the principle of air resistance that led to the creation of the modern parachute was first learned 4,000 years ago when the father of legendary monarch Shun pushed him off a rooftop. Miraculously, he survived by allegedly holding up two cone-shaped bamboo hats in his hands on his way down.
9. Zildjian Cymbals
Origin: Used as military weapons
These drumset staples weren't always produced for the likes of Travis Barker to rock on. The company was founded in Constantinople in the 17th Century and originally produced especially loud noisemakers that the Janissary units of the Ottoman Empire used as a military weapon to terrify their enemies.
Origin: Used to treat female "hysteria"
Before they were the cornerstone of the sex toy industry, the vibrator was considered a legitimate medical device, invented by male doctors who would administer it to women diagnosed with "hysteria." The treatment for the loosely-defined ailment (which would later be recognized as simple sexual frustration) was for doctors to manually bring them to orgasm using their hands, which was evidently too exhausting and spawned the development of this labor-saving tool.
Joe McGauley is a senior editor at Supercompressor and knew there was something off about treadmills.
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