William Addis is believed to be the first person to properly mass-produce a toothbrush. He was born in 1734, and nothing about his childhood suggests a penchant for oral hygiene. Instead, the origins of the toothbrush, as conceived by Addis, originated in prison. Was it the world’s first toothbrush? Not really. The Chinese had been making them from bamboo and hog’s bristles. Yum. Was it the first toothbrush people were excited about using? Likely.
Addis was jailed in 1770 for inciting a riot. He had started a conflict in the fields, but the reasons why are obscured in history. While serving his time, he noticed that the prisoners weren’t all that great at oral hygiene. In those days, people were using shells and soot to clean their teeth. Sort of a purification, like a mouthwash. Whatever that concoction was, it was not effective. So he pocketed a bone he took from a meal he’d eaten and drilled some holes into it. Then he inserted bunches of bristles he’d opbtained from guards and fashioned a bone toothbrush.
Upon release, Addis experimented with different types of hair. First badger, then Siberian boar. He formed a company in 1780 and sold his products to a raving market. The reasons for the sale weren’t because of the brush itself. Addis sold hygiene. He sold a book that described the symptoms and problems of dental decay, something nearly everyone could relate to. Inside that book was a cleverly placed toothbrush, and sales were through the ceiling.
Addis was mass producing his products all across Europe, and had expanded to Japan by 1840.