Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Top 5 Product Names We Use Every Day

Quick--what do you put on a scraped knee?  Yeah, of course, an adhesive bandage.  That's what came to mind, right?  ...but if you thought of something else, "Band-Aid" for example, then check out my top 5 brand names that have slipped into the vernacular.

5: Q-Tip (cotton swab) - The cotton swab was invented by Leo Gerstenzang of Leo Gerstenzang Infant Novelty Company in 1923 when he stuck some cotton to the end of a toothpick (after seeing his wife do the same when cleaning, which really means she should be credited with the invention, but that's 1920s America for ya).  He marketed his product as "Baby Gays" and later "Q-Tips Baby Gays" ("Q" for "quality").  After early 1920s society's crazed infatuation with infant sexual preference passed [citation needed], he shortened the name to "Q-Tips."  Today, we use multiple brands of cotton swabs to clean our ears--against doctors' orders--and we call them all Q-Tips.

4: Xerox (photocopy) - Founded in 1906, The Haloid Photographic Company later changed its name to Xerox Corp. and began making copying machines.  We've been "xeroxing" documents ever since (on machines made by a wide variety of companies), much to Xerox Corp.'s dismay--"Xerox" is still a valid trademark, and the company fights vigilantly to keep it from becoming genericized.

3: Kleenex (facial tissue) - Kleenex was originally used as a face towel substitute (to remove makeup).  It was patented in 1924 by Cellucotton Products Company of Neenah as an "absorbent pad or sheet to remove cold cream."  A decade later it was marketed as a handkerchief substitute, ensuring that in ensuing decades, men would have no idea how to fold the square of fabric that comes with the rental tux on their wedding day.  The name is technically still a recognized trademark, but is on the verge of being genericized.

2: Escalator (moving staircase) - As early as 1859 and continuing through the 19th century, patents were issued on various types of moving staircases.  In 1900, Charles D. Seeberger registered the word "escalator" for a moving stairway, coining the word from verb "escalade" (using a ladder to climb a castle wall).  Otis Elevator Company bought Seeberger's trademark in 1910, and by 1921 developed (more or less) the modern escalator.  The trademark is officially genericized, and the only people who call escalators "moving staircases" are children whose parents haven't corrected them yet.

1: Zipper (separable fastener) - The idea for the zipper has been around since the mid-1800s.  variously called "automatic, continuous clothing closures," "clasp lockers," and "Judson C-curity Fasteners," separable fasteners gained a toe-hold when B. F. Goodrich Company fastened the device to boots.  Zippers caught on and never looked back.  Today, all separable fasteners by any company are called zippers.  In fact, I'll bet you never encountered the term "separable fastener" before now.

Hope this was interesting (and you thought Atari games and comic book movies were nerdy topics).  Shout out to Steve, Bob, Jay, Rebecca, and Evan on episode 320 of the SGU podcast for inspiring this top 5 with their funny and random musings on the same topic.  Please leave your comments below, and don't forget to follow the blog, like it, Digg it, share it via FB and G+, Tweet it, etc. (there are just too many social media outlets).  


  1. This was a good one. You got me with #2.

  2. Two more modern additions: "Velcro" and "Google" (the verb, in lieu of "look up something on an internet search engine.")

    -Jim in LA

  3. I would have put band-aid as #1!
    -Karen melillo

  4. #1 made me think of velcro, too.

  5. I felt like since I had it in the intro, I couldn't use it as one of the 5, but yeah,

  6. I might add Jacuzzi and Scotch tape. But then it would be a top 7.