Did you know that body odor didn’t exist until the year 1888? It’s true. Where did it come from? And why did it sweep the nation?
If you tell people that the Loch Ness Monster doesn’t exist or that Bigfoot is a sham most people will smile and nod, but tell them that body odor didn’t exist until the year 1888 and they’ll think you’re nuts. “Of course it existed!” they shout. “Body odor means you smell bad! People smelled bad before 1888!” They’re right that people may have not smelled their best back then, but it wasn’t because of body odor. How is that possible you ask? Check this out.
Back in the Medieval and Victorian eras a person could usually be expected to take a bath once a year, yet one more reason why you would be argued that body odor had to have been in existence, but no! The reason for the bath was to remove all the dirt that had caked on to a person over the winter after being bundled up for months, and the taking of this annual bath was a risky business. People very strongly believed that in the act of scrubbing off the dirt you were also removing a “protective layer” on your skin that helped to preserve you from disease and infection. Bathing therefore left you unprotected and susceptible to illness.
Since bathing once a year was a fairly widely accepted practice, to smell a little ripe was not a big deal because everyone smelled the same, until the release of a magazine advertisement in 1888 that changed the shape of history and hygiene as we know it. The advertisement showed a gentleman stepping on to an elevator (yes, they had elevators in 1888) with little stink lines drawn in over his head and all the people on the elevator stepping away from him. VOILA! Body odor was born. With the release of this advertisement by a company named Mum advertising their new product “deodorant”, a mass paranoia spread across the nation as people decided they didn’t want to be the guy on the elevator that everyone wanted to get away from. Deodorant became a hit with other “body odor” eliminating products soon following.
Today we live in a society filled with deoderants, antipersperants, body washes, body sprays, solids, gels, roll-ons and more. Products that we would have no interest in if a commercial had not told us that the smell of our unwashed bodies is socially unacceptable. Body odor is a piece of marketing genius, a money making powerhouse, and quite possibly one of the most socially significant inventions of the 19th century that still impacts our world today. What will they think of next?