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History of the Tampon

The History of the Tampon

July 6, 2022

The history of the tampon is a long one, dating back to ancient times when women used various materials such as wool, papyrus, and sea sponges to manage their menstrual flow. 

The modern tampon as we know it today has a more recent history, beginning with the invention of the cotton tampon with an applicator in 1929. In this blog, we will walk you through the history of the tampon. 

Ancient Tampon History 

Menstruators spent thousands of years using crude, creative and carefully-crafted resources to control their flow before Mary Kenner came along with her groundbreaking invention. But what did they use before modern period products, exactly? 

Tampons were rarely used for the reason we know them today, not just in terms of shape or material. It was historically used as a contraceptive device and often thought to have nothing to do with menstruation. 

The earliest tampon-like devices were fashioned out of a number of materials. The history of the tampon and its usage dates back to Ancient Egypt in the 5th century B.C., where medical records describe tampons made from the papyrus plant. The Romans, on the other hand, used wool. Different materials have included vegetable fibers, grass and sponges.  

Tampons in the 20th Century 

One of the first menstrual equity activists was Mary Kenner, inventor of the sanitary belt, in the 1920s. Kenner’s invention laid the foundation for what we know today as the modern-day pad, but is just one chapter in the history of the tampon!

In 1931, Dr. Earle Haas developed and patented the first modern-day applicator tampon. Yet it was a woman, Gertrude Tendrich, who bought the patent from Haas and began producing cardboard applicator tampons. 

Tendrich sewed each tampon from her home until she expanded her business into the now-famous brand Tampax. 

The other type of tampon, the non-applicator kind, was created by German gynecologist Dr. Judith Esser-Mittag in the 1940s. Esser-Mittag sold her invention to a company that Johnson & Johnson eventually bought. 

The Growing Popularity of the Tampon

Initially, tampons were not widely used and were often stigmatized due to cultural taboos around menstruation. However, the popularity of tampons began to grow in the 1960s and 1970s, as women became more vocal about their desire for greater freedom and mobility during their periods. Tampon ads also began to appear on television, further increasing their visibility and acceptance.

In the 1980s, controversy arose around the safety of tampons, specifically regarding the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection. Tampon manufacturers responded by changing the materials used in tampons and providing more detailed instructions for safe use.  

Recent Tampon History 

The tampon continues to be a popular menstrual product today, with a wide variety of brands and styles available on the market. However, the discussion around menstrual health and product safety continues, with some advocating for more research and transparency around the ingredients and manufacturing processes of period products.

While many name brands still make their products with synthetic dyes and toxic chemicals, there is a growing movement for overall sustainability

At Aunt Flow, we do everything in our power to offer products that are both safe for your body AND environmentally friendly. We have come a LONG way in the history of the tampon and other period products. 

Learn more about our products HERE

Stay in the flow — we’ll send you period positivity + timely updates on the menstrual movement.

claire coder,founder + ceo

claire coder,
founder + ceo

Hi! I’m Claire. I founded Aunt Flow after getting my period in public without the supplies needed.

At 18 years old, I dedicated my life to developing a solution to ensure businesses and schools could sustainably provide quality period products, for free, in bathrooms. Our products are made with organic cotton and we are constantly working to reduce our environmental impact! Since 2021, we've donated over 6 MILLION period products to menstruators in need. I call this people helping people. PERIOD.®