#31 – William Addis

He probably didn’t look like that in prison

“You’re a pink toothbrush, I’m a blue toothbrush; have we met somewhere before?” – Max Bygraves

If there’s one thing that’s good about waking up, it’s brushing your teeth. Let’s face it, in the morning, your mouth tastes like the arse-end of a drain and no matter how much you try to distract yourself, the festering flavour pesters and lingers. So as comfortable as your bed is, you’ll eventually realise that you need to brush your teeth to get all the bits out of hard to reach places and refresh your mouth at the same time.

But what about the old days? How on earth did they get that happy feeling in the morning? If you guessed salt and rags, you win the prize (it’s some salt and rags). While toothbrushes had been around in some forms in history, they were not mass-produced tools and as such barely anyone had one. This is why we have prisoner William Addis to thank for starting the revolution. Wait, prisoner?

Yes, I never thought we’d be heralding a man held at Her Majesty’s pleasure as a hero, but here we are. His crime wasn’t too bad – he provoked a riot in 1770. It’s not like he murdered anyone or threw a child down a well or anything. Well, presumably not. But in committing his crime he set himself and the rest of us up for a more hygienic life.

The morning routine wouldn’t be quite the same with salt and rags, would it?

While in prison, he tried to work out what he’d do upon release to recoup lost earnings and you know, pay for living and such. In the midst of this is presumably realised he was British and that cleaning your mouth with a communal prison rag probably wasn’t good for him, so he got thinking. He took the bone of a chicken from one of his meals and bored holes into it. He was obviously an alright prisoner too, because when he asked the guards for some bristles, they didn’t bat an eyelid and even gave him some glue. Either that, or they weren’t too bright, which is equally possible.

Addis tied the bristles together and glued them onto the bone and viola, the tooth bone-bristle-stick was formed! Possibly much to the confusion of Americans everywhere, the inventor of the modern-day toothbrush was British.

The first mass-produced toothbrush hit England in 1780 and suddenly Addis was crapping money, until he died in 1808, leaving his business to his son. The company, named Wisdom Toothbrushes, still exists today. Not bad for a convict.

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