Aspirin, Yo-Yo, Jacuzzi, Frisbee: names for common items that are tossed about by headache sufferers, kids, partiers and dog-lovers alike. Did you know they weren’t the actual terms, but were once brands that became so overwhelmingly popular the trademarks were lost to time and became genericized? The list goes on: sharpie, Q-tips, popsicle, ping pong… apparently these brands went viral to their own detriment, becoming synonymous with the object themselves, losing their unique marketing value through becoming common nouns and sometimes verbs. Technically, a Jacuzzi is by definition a brand of hot tub: a Jacuzzi® hot tub. But these days, you’d sound more than a little strange if you claimed you were off to take a dip in your ‘Jacuzzi hot tub’…
There are literally hundreds of genericized brand names for the things we use in our day to day lives, words to which we don’t give a second thought regarding the history of their terminology. For companies who’ve lost their trademarks it’s a bittersweet irony. They certainly succeeded in their goal of universal appeal, but most also lost legal protection while all rights to the brand name have been extinguished. Truly, how were we to know that every time we bit into our ‘popsicles’ we were actually just enjoying a ‘frozen ice-treat on a stick’?
These popular terms aside, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of the more surprising lost trademarks including those for over-the-shoulder boulder holders, conveyor transport devices, the world’s most addictive drug and one very popular police tool. What were once brand names have forever been absorbed into our language and culture.
10. Laundromat – 1950s
So much for saying, “I’m heading down to the laundromat to wash my clothes.” The Laundromat was actually a brand for a wall-mounted washing machine created by electrical company Westinghouse. In the 50s, the company registered the brand as a coin laundry as well. The term has become synonymous with coin laundry shops themselves, and when these types of shops around the world started calling themselves Laundromats, the trademark eventually become genericized.
9. Dry Ice
Dry ice is what we call that awesome fog from the smoke machines that go off while we’re busting sick moves on the dance floor, but it was originally a brand name. Trademarked in 1925 by the Dry Ice Corporation of America, it’s actually solid carbon dioxide. In this state, frozen at -109.3 degrees Fahrenheit, it sublimates, which means that it goes through the process of transformation from solid to gas without becoming liquid, which gave the corporation the idea for the “dry” part of the name.
The trademark Mortician once referred to an undertaker who was a member of the Mortician’s Association. Every Mortician was an undertaker, but every undertaker was not a Mortician if he or she was not a member. Nowadays, the term ‘mortician’ defines the job of someone in charge of a body and burial service, not the specific designation that was the word’s initial purpose. Eventually, the public started referring to all undertakers as morticians and the terms became synonymous, the latter losing its import.
7. Thermos – 1963
Introduced in 1904 by the Thermos, LLC company, these vacuum flasks boasted temperature control for beverages and made such an impact on the world that customers began calling all vacuum flasks thermoses. The company lost the trademark when the term became officially generic as of the early 60s.
Jujubes suffered genericide when the word and the label merged over time, to describe many similar jelly-style candies. The company Heide introduced Jujubes and Juicy Fruits in 1920. Ironically, back in the day Jujubes were rock hard, and not even of the jelly-like consistency that their name now conjures. It’s unclear how chewy candies became synonymous with the word jujubes but we imagine it was born out of convenience: “pass the jujubes,” is a lot easier to say than, “pass the fruit-flavoured gelatin candies.” (Side note: the ‘jell-o’ inside these fruit candies is also a misnomer, as Jell-o itself is a brand name that’s on its way to genericism).
While we almost always refer to the stun guns or electroshock weapons used by cops as “tasers” it’s a misnomer, since Taser International Inc. is actually a company that introduced their Taser stun gun in 1974. The news program “60 Minutes” once reported that the taser is used by over 15,000 law enforcement agencies in the US, but that may be incorrect as not all agencies likely use the Taser brand itself. It’s also technically incorrect to use it as a verb, as in “That scene from ‘The Hangover’ when Bradley Cooper is tasered in the nuts is hysterical.” An odd point on this one; the company that came up the word was actually using an acronym. It stands for “Thomas A. Swift’s electric rifle.”
4. Escalator – 1950
It’s doubtful many people know that we’re not actually riding an escalator, but a ‘conveyor transport device’ that was once trademarked by a company called Otis in 1900. The brand name Escalator was way easier to say, obviously, and it became such a common part of popular public terminology that the manufacturing company lost rights to their trademark in the 1950s.
In 1914, a newly formed US patent category for “brassieres”, which is originally a French word for underclothing worn as support for the breasts, was created. The first official patent was issued to Mary Phelps Jacob. Known as Caresse Crosby in her everyday life, the patent holder was a progressive woman by all standards, as an American patron of the arts, publisher, and the “literary godmother to the lost generation of expatriate writers in Paris.”
The Warner Brothers Corset Company, in the hands of the founders’ sons, paid $1,500 for Jacob’s ground-breaking brassiere patent. It proved to be a move that helped boost the company’s annual sales, as the corset was quickly becoming extinct. They eventually began developing new products in the 30s, when “brassiere” was gradually shortened to “bra,” and the corset company revolutionized the industry with the development of bra cup sizes. These days, that original trademark brand name is really the only word women use when they refer to support for “the girls.”
It’s not a zipper – it’s a separable fastener! The zipper of 1917 was a brand name created by the Universal Fastener Company, an original patent by Gideon Sundback. Pretty much nothing has changed of this invention, except for the official declaration of genericide for the trademark. It’s still used the same way it’s always been used and employed in everything from pants to luggage and hazmat suits (or should we say, “impermeable whole-body garments worn as protection against hazardous materials.”)
Yep, even Heroin is actually a brand name. It’s technical name, diacetylmorphine, received the Heroin trademark in 1898 by Heinrich Dreser, who was head of drug development at German pharmaceutical company Bayer. The word was developed after testing subjects of the drug found that it made them feel “heroisch,” which is German for heroic. The drug, however, proved to be everything but. After samples were distributed to doctors, who prescribed Heroin diacetylmorphine to patients, Bayer began churning out Heroin cough lozenges, pills and elixirs. Eventually, the addiction issue came to light when doctors started to report their patients desperately requesting the drug. Bayer halted production in 1913, and in 1924 the drug was made illegal in the US.