The GP who couldn't advertise his invention

Earle Cleveland (1885 Kansas City – 1981 Denver, Colorado)

When the journalists of an American consumer magazine wanted to compile a list in 1986 of the fifty most important products that had been launched in the last century, they had to work their way through more than 100,000 products.

Among the fifty little miracles they survived, things that had revolutionized the life of the average American, were not only running shoes and air conditioning, but, to the surprise of many, also the tampon, better known as the tampax roll.

Its inventor had died five years earlier. But he wouldn't have been surprised at the choice: he'd been on lists like this in his lifetime.

Earle Cleveland Haas was born in 1885 in Kansas City. He studied medicine and settled down as a simple family doctor in Denver, Colorado. In a small laboratory in his basement, he started work in 1929 on an alternative to the existing sanitary napkins.

At the time, these were usually large cloths that were reused after washing. Of his wife and his patients, the doctor knew only too well how much trouble those cloths caused. A friend's wife revealed to him one day that she used a piece of sponge.

And that got him thinking. He did know that the women in Ancient Egypt knew a kind of papyrus, the Greek women a ribbon. In Rome they used wool, in Japan paper, in Indonesia fibers from plants, in Central Africa rolls of grass.

In the years of the Great Depression in the United States, Haas was simply bursting with new ideas.

He traded real estate, invented a contraceptive diaphragm that he could sell for $50,000, and was president of a small anti-infective company.

For Dr. Haas, it was a challenge to ease the menstrual pain of his female patients.

From 1929 he spent all his spare time designing a tampon, a pad made of compressed cotton. He worked step by step.

He took a strip of cotton fiber, stitched a string lengthwise over the fibers to hold them together, and left the end uncut, which made it easier to remove the roll after use.

He also developed a small machine in which he could press the cotton into the right shape.

Doctor Haas was delighted that the tampon could be removed hygienically by means of the string. But how could it be introduced hygienically? As a manufacturer of antiseptic products, he was very aware of the danger of contamination.

To prevent the women from having to touch the tampon when inserting it, he developed an ingenious system in which the cotton contained in a sleeve could be safely inserted through a second tube.

That insertion sleeve or applicator still makes the product unique eighty years later.

On November 19, 1931, he obtained a patent for his invention. As a brand name, he also put together the word tampax, composed of the words 'tampon' and 'pack' (compress), a compress cushion. How was he supposed to generate interest in his invention?

Because menstruation was a big taboo, he couldn't advertise his 'tampax'. Newspapers and magazines refused any form of advertisement. Not to mention the mothers who feared that their daughters would lose their virginity with the construction.

In desperation, Haas sold the patent and the brand name to a businesswoman of German descent in 1933. He got $32,000 for it. But Gertrude Tenderich also had to find new financiers and come up with all kinds of ingenious means to bring the subject to the attention.

Her 'tampax ladies' became famous, who came to tell the new story at trade fairs, medical conferences and girls' schools dressed as nurses.

When millions of American women were employed in the war industry during World War II, the tampon's success was unstoppable. 'No
time for time-out," was the Tampax slogan at the time.

Dr. Earle Haas continued to work as a general practitioner in Denver. He later told in interviews
regret that he had sold his invention so quickly and so cheaply. In 1969 the London Sunday Times named him one of the Thousand Makers of the Twentieth Century. He could still experience that.

Until old age, legend has it, he fiddled around in his little laboratory trying to improve his invention. He did not die until 1981. He was 96 at the time.