People tend not think too deeply about the origins commonplace things, and we’re really better off that way. Sometimes it’s better just to let a thing be what it is. For example, when we go to the grocery store and buy eggs we know they’re chicken eggs, but we don’t think about the squelching details of how that egg came into existence. Other times, it’s important to understand the origins of the things in our world. We need to know if it’s dangerous, or profits people we don’t want to support.
This is not one of those times. This is one of the times when you will be amused, surprised, grossed-out and kind of baffled by where the things you see every single day come from.
Think deeply about the modern world and it becomes obvious just how bizarre it truly is. We spend our hard-earned money locking out the wild and surrounding ourselves in material comfort, only to take vacations in nature. And when we *do* go back to nature we bring as much bug repellent and gear as possible to make certain it doesn’t get too naturey. But the truth is that we’re never really that far from nature, or our past.
Most of the items on this list were invented to alter nature, either by making food taste better or to eliminating masturbation. I’ll let you guess which one that is.
Sometimes it’s fun to take a step back and contemplate the things we take for granted. If you knew how much it took just to make that horrible low pile industrial carpeting beneath your cubicle, your head would spin. You probably already know about the deplorable things that happen in the name of diamond jewelry. But you probably don’t know that Bone Black paint was made from charred bones.
Have you heard of xantham gum? Sure you have. It’s a gooey ingredient in all sorts of stuff from chewing gum to makeup to, yes, salad dressing. Where’s it come from? Well, basically, it’s what’s made when you let a natural sugar get goopy in the sun. Nowadays it’s made in a lab, but it’s still just rotting biomatter that salad dressing companies add flavorful ingredients to in order to make leafy greens less incredibly boring.
Surprised that salad dressing is basically rotten salad itself? You shouldn’t be. We humans have always enjoyed the taste of horribly decaying nastiness. Why, Worcestershire sauce’s original formulation would turn your stomach just to smell it and the first preparation was so strong the whole barrel had to be tossed. But it’s no surprise to me that our favorite sauces are often made in ghastly ways. After all…
… the precursor to salad dressing is an ancient Roman sauce made from rotten anchovies. Excuse me, that’s not entirely accurate. It was made from fresh anchovies that were purposely left to rot. Remember, protein wasn’t easy to get, and fish is a great source. Furthermore, the main purpose of sauce is to make the unpalatable (read: a few maggots short of a plague) a bit more savory. It takes a strong flavor to make boring food tasty and mask the flavor of corruption.
Fanta is, of course, what you drink when you want a fruit soda and are a child or have recalled some of the most vivid and annoying telemundo-style advertisements running on English-language stations. Fanta is a Coca-Cola product that is popular around the world, so popular that it’s one of Coke’s biggest sellers.
You may surprised to learn that Fanta is actually the product of wartime desperation. As a matter of fact, Fanta…
… is Nazi Coke. OK, that’s a little unfair. While World War 2 raged in Europe, the Coca-Cola company in Germany was cut off from the company headquarters in the United States. It still had workers and machinery and a bottling facility. It still had a responsibility to employ those workers, and for all the things one might accuse 1940s-era Germans of, one could not call them less than industrious. Of course, industrious as they might be, they couldn’t make Coke without Coke syrup, and the ingredients were (not only secret) but not available in Germany. What were they to do?
Why, create one of the world’s favorite soft drinks with whatever the hell they had lying around. Which is exactly what they did.
When the German and United States’ Coke companies were reunited, the formula was introduced to the American market. And when German nationals fled all over the world, they brought their drink with them.
I cannot for the life of me imagine anyone who doesn’t love Graham Crackers who couldn’t be the villain in a Disney film. Really. Sugary, cinnamony, crispy. They go great with juice, with milk, with water, with air. I’m getting a craving for a nosh just writing about this. Graham crackers are beautiful little creatures. Dusty, sensual little flavor explosions that can give you immediate, toe-curling tonguegasms. Ironic, then, that…
… they were created to limit the eater’s sex drive. What? Needless to say, it doesn’t work. But back in 19th century America, people would try anything to end the evil scourge of masturbation. It wasn’t quite the sex-positive, self-love-accepting world it is today.
As a matter of fact there were all sorts of devices back in our puritanical history designed to stop boys from touching themselves, or even enjoying completely natural nocturnal erections. Graham Crackers, according to Dr. Graham, were designed to be so boring and bland as to stifle any carnal desire. The original recipe was unsweetened… which sounds absolutely horrible. But it beats the internally spiked ‘jewelry’ a boy could be fitted with instead. Yeah. Cookies, please.
On the opposite end of the snack spectrum from Graham Crackers are popsicles. If you really need an introduction to what Popsicles are, here it is: They’re frozen, flavored icicles with a stick in them. It is this stick that makes it a Popsicle. Without the stick, all you’ve got is the best whiskey mixer ever. Remember I taught you that and credit The Richest at your next party when people are enjoying themselves just a little bit more.
You’d think, given how everyone loves food on a stick, that Popsicles had accompanied people throughout history. You might imagine an Aztec messenger bringing Popsicles from the mountain top to his king, running quickly so that they do not melt. But, nope, Popsicles actually began…
… with an accidental discovery in 1905. Frank Epperson left his soda pop (hence Popsicle) out on his porch. On that fateful wint’ry night he also left the stirring stick – which apparently turn of the 20th century soda needed – in the glass. In the morning it had frozen.
Now, here’s the interesting bit. Frank was just a child. He had just discovered what would become his life’s greatest achievement and a new kind of deliciousness that everyone would love… and he managed to keep it secret. That is truly his greatest accomplishment. About 18 years after his porchside discovery he patented his Eppsicle and eventually sold it to a company that sold it to a company that now sells it to every screaming summer camp guest in the world. Ah, capitalism.
The most amazing part of this is that the first company he sold it to didn’t just dismiss the kid and steal the idea for itself. Amazingly, 109 years ago there was this thing called “ethics.”
They say that the key to success is recognizing opportunity. Whether you believe opportunities are made, found or capitalized upon one thing is certain: ignore opportunity and you will sacrifice your future. The Kotex company most certainly could be described as the child of opportunism.
Ask any man what he’d take a box of to a desert island and you might get a lot of hemming and hawing and a diverse list. Ask any modern woman of reproductive age and I’d bet dollars to donuts that monthly feminine hygiene products would be near top of the list. Before Kotex, the traditional remedy for the most predictable blood loss a human is subject to was a rag. Before that corn husk or horse tail. Between rag and Kotex, nurses would use wood pulp and bandages. Doesn’t sound comfortable. How did it take so long for a company to come up with a product that half of the world’s population would consider absolutely essential? Well…
… the problem is that they were all being used to stop up bullet wounds. Yup, Kotex pads were originally intended for the battlefields of WW1. Even today if you look into a battlefield first aid kit you’ll find a bandage very much like a maxi pad with plastic on one side that is specially used to keep a chest wound from sucking in air and drowning the poor gunshot wound victim.
Military nurses took one look at Kotex pads and, while I would think, “overkill,” they thought, “salvation.” The Kotex company took note and sold it in the civilian market. Opportunity, gentle reader. Perhaps it is high time to create CD-Rom coasters?