During World War I, the Kimberly-Clark company (then a smallish manufacturer of printing papers) supplied the U.S. Army and Red Cross with a new material for making bandages - Cellucotton, a thin, absorbent material made from processed wood pulp. It was five times as absorbent and half as expensive as cotton. Lots of it was needed, as this was a war in which one of every two soldiers was wounded or killed.

Kimberly-Clark sold it to the Army at cost, as a gesture of goodwill and good press, but as soon as the war was over, they decided to find a way to make mad money off the tons of Cellucotton now filling up their warehouses. Kimberly-Clark had never before attempted to market a product to the public.

In 1920, K-C came up with the idea of marketing disposable sanitary napkins. By "came up with," I mean, "stole the idea from WWI nurses who improvised pads out of Cellucotton or gauze." Before this, women had used and re-used cloth rags, and so had their moms, etc. Expecting them to change such a private habit was a big deal, and the change would not come easily. Also, disposable products in general didn't yet exist. There were no throwaway paper plates, cups, napkins. This was a whole new product category, and many people didn't trust the idea.

The product was first called "Cellunap" - Cellucotton + napkins. Gross. It was soon changed to "Kotex" - cotton + textile.

There were still decades of battles in store for Kotex - magazines were adamant about not advertising such a vulgar product, and stores were reluctant to stock it. When ads were accepted, they were worded so vaguely that readers didn't know what was being marketed to them. It was a struggle just to get people to talk about such products. No one seemed to think women would have any interest in buying Kotex pads, and for a long time, they didn't.

K-C spent years honing their marketing and stressing the convenience of their new inventions. Tampax tampons came on the market in 1936. K-C launched an enormous campaign to inform school boards about Kotex, and to persuade teachers to talk to their female students about feminine hygeine. Somehow they convinced the Ladies' Home Journal to publish an article about menstruation - can you imagine the euphemisms.

Even the dreaded moment of purchase was made easier - women were assured they would never have to ask for Kotex by name, as each drugstore would place a pile of pads (individually wrapped, unmarked, discreet) beside a coin box. Women could deposit 50 cents, take one, and scurry away. (And keep in mind, this is 50 cents of 1930s money - ridiculously expensive, especially as these pads had no adhesive, no bells no whistles - these were simply wrapped rectangles of gauze.)

It wasn't until the mid-40s that most women would be using disposable, commercially-made pads and tampons.

K-C currently holds about 30% of the almost $1 billion U.S. sanitary napkin market.

Another by-product invention born from Cellucotton was Kleenex. Its marketing began in 1924, and it ran into social taboos as well. People blew their noses into handkerchiefs - it was a deeply ingrained habit, and you couldn't expect them to welcome a scratchy square of paper (this was pre-lotion, pre-ultra) over a linen hankie. K-C gave up and marketed them as "cold cream removers" (Jean Harlow and Helen Hayes officially endorsed them!) for years before people realized how nice it was to throw snot away, rather than keep it in pockets.

In the 60s, Kimberly-Clark tried to sell paper dresses, and the world laughed and laughed. But disposable diapers were immediately recognized as great.

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