When were antiperspirants invented, and how have they changed in form over time?
Though very few Americans start their day without putting on some version of a deodorant or antiperspirant, they have not always done so. In fact, it is only within the last hundred years or so that Americans have gotten interested in making sure they don't stink.
Before that, talking about personal hygiene or bodily functions of any kind was just not done. This Victorian society dealt with sweat by putting absorbing cloths of some kind under their armpits (and of course under their clothing) to absorb the sweat. While that may have protected their clothing to some extent, it did not deal with body odor; they showered themselves with colognes and perfumes to cover up any odor. The good news is that everyone was probably odiferous so it didn't matter so much. Even worse, there was rampant fear about these kinds of products, a fear that they were unhealthy.
The first deodorant, which kills odor-producing bacteria, was called Mum and had been trademarked in 1888, while the first antiperspirant, which thwarts both sweat-production and bacterial growth, was called Everdry and launched in 1903.
However, the breakthrough in the antiperspirant world came through a teenage girl and her surgeon father.
Cincinnati native Edna Murphey thought the product her father invented to keep his hands from sweating during surgery would also work to keep a person's armpits from sweating. She launched a business with a small loan from her grandfather, but the three saleswomen she hired to sell the product she called Odorono (odor? Oh no!) did not meet with much success. Murphey also had trouble marketing Odorono to pharmacists.
She revived the idea again at the 1912 Atlantic City exposition. At first her product's booth did not get much traffic, but as the hot Georgia summer went on, the fair's attendees grew sweatier and smellier. Suddenly Odorono looked pretty appealing, and her representative sold $30,00 worth of the product. This was enough to launch a successful advertising campaign for the antiperspirant.
The product was not perfect by any means. While it would last for three days, it routinely burned users' armpits and stained clothing because it was red. Mum, another antiperspirant on the market, was a cream and also had some significant problems for users.
As the products improved, the advertising campaigns began. It was the beginning of fear advertising aimed at women, warning them that they probably stink and might not even know it. These advertisements contained the implied threat that if they wanted to attract and keep a man, they had better buy an antiperspirant to avoid smelling bad. It worked.
Today the sweat-free, odor-free business brings in eighteen billion dollars a year. Antiperspirants have evolved, naturally, and now come in these common forms: gel, liquid, powder, stick, and spray. A quick walk down the deodorant aisle in any store reveals that most companies in this market create their products in many or all of these forms to meet the demands of their consumers. Of course there are other methods which are touted as a more permanent solution to body odor, such as various rubs, creams, and wraps.
Society has made a dramatic shift from not talking about personal hygiene at all to talking about things that are perhaps way too personal for comfort in mixed company, but the advertising campaign which launched the discussion (as well as the use of fear in advertising) is directly connected to Odorono, the first viable sweat-control product.