with Embalmed Smiles
year-old Kansas “Tooth Wash” Bottles Reveal Early Advertising Hyperboleby
| Note: One of the high
points (every other month) here at Texas Escapes is receiving the latest copy
of Kansas Preservation. There’s always something distinctively different (but
somehow strangely familiar).The May-June Volume of KP had four feature articles
including one called Protecting (the trail and) the Teeth by Marshall Clark.
1866, Kansas’ Fort Fletcher was a link in the long chain of forts built along
the western frontier. Unlike Texas forts which were mainly staffed by freed Black
“Buffalo Soldiers,” this fort was staffed with former Confederate Prisoners of
War who were sometimes referred to as “reconstituted” Yankees. The post was renamed
Fort Hays in 1867.
A flood brought destruction that year, and the fort
wisely moved to higher ground. But the post cemetery (unwisely) remained uphill
from the post water supply. The Surgeon General reported that this run-off water
supply also contained lime, magnesium, carbolic and sulfuric acid. A glass of
this stuff must’ve made whiskey seem like sarsparilla by comparison.
1889 Fort Hays was abandoned as a military installation and the land was given
to the State for use as a agricultural experimental station.
A few of
the fort’s buildings remain standing today.
being shown a box of unearthed relics from Fort Hays, Kansas Archeological Lab
volunteer Marshall Clark, wrote the article based on his findings.
celluloid and even ivory toothbrush handles were among the artifacts. One still
stubbornly retained 125-year-old bristles. Amber bottles of liquid dentifrice
had their places of origin embossed in the glass. Lowell, Massachucetts, Boston,
and NYC appeared to be leaders in producing what was then called “tooth wash.”
(In Mexico people continue to “wash” rather than "brush" their teeth.)
Clark’s thorough investigation found that toothbrushes were a regular part of
the post sutler’s inventory. He was even able to turn up a few advertisements
for these products. Sold for a quarter, "Rubifoam for the Teeth" was “deliciously
flavored” and Burnett’s "Oriental Tooth Wash" contained several active ingredients,
not the least of which was cocaine.
The "King of Tooth Washes," however
came from New York City and judging by the ad, the factory must’ve been near Madison
Avenue. Van Buskirk’s Fragrant Sozodont had the snappy motto of
“Good for bad teeth - Not Bad for Good Teeth.” Acids, astringents and sharp
abrasives were proudly listed, and it didn’t stop there.
and preserving the teeth, hardening the gums, imparting a delightfully refreshing
taste and feeling to the mouth, removing “tarter [sic] and scruf" [double sic]
from the teeth and completely arresting the progress of decay and whitening such
parts as have already become black by decay.”
The ad men, who may have
been paid by the word, finished with: “ it combines an embalming and antiseptic
property and delicate fragrance.”
Even with today's whitening strips,
caps and implanted teeth, who wouldn’t envy someone flashing an embalmed and antiseptic