The History of Toothpicks


Among the many eating utensils that were created over the last few millennia's, toothpick is known to be so old that it predates the modern history of human race. Archeological findings scattered all around the world confirm that the skulls of Neanderthals and Homo sapiens have shown very clear signs of teeth that were regularly picked and cleaned with a tool. In those early periods of our history, various types of soft and hard wood were used as a tool for oral hygiene, soft grass to floss and chewing of sticks until one end of it became soft and perfect for brushing teeth. These kind of chewed sticks were found many times in the areas where our prehistoric ancestors lived. As for the toothpicks, they were created from any number of available materials - wood, bone, ivory, shells, bird claws, walrus whiskers and many others.

Arrival of metal age brought a revolution in toothpick use and creation. Even the earliest age of bronze metalwork in Northern Italy and East Alps produced small and slim bronze toothpicks. This tradition of metal toothpicks continued through the ages, and high profile citizens of Roman Empire liked to use pieces made from silver and bronze. Famous Roman Emperor Nero was famous for his public use of silver toothpicks on some festive occasions. After the fall of Roman Empire, other nations continued to refine and create toothpicks from many materials that they found around them. Norse Vikings used wooden toothpicks, others used frontal teeth of lizard attached to small sticks, and some countries like Japan produced very strict rules and rituals regarding the use of toothpicks.

Fashion of 17th century Europe nobility brought the rise of very extravagant gem encrusted metal toothpicks, accompanied with simpler and more easily manufactured porcupine quills and simple wooden sticks.

Man who introduced us with the modern version of a toothpick was American inventor Charles Forster who in 1869 while working on a family farm in Brazil took notice of toothpicks that were created by local workmen. He quickly devised a plan for machine manufacture, secured the patent rights and started selling his product across America. Very soon, use of industrial made toothpicks spread all across the world. It became not only an integral part of a meal, but a fashion statement which soon gave birth of the habit of chewing toothpick in the public (which was greatly popularized in the books of Mark Twain).

Every year hundreds of billion toothpicks are used by the people around the world, most notably around 200 billion annually just in China, where use of toothpicks represent important after-meal ritual.