In about 1892, a Connecticut dentist by the name of Dr. Lucius Sheffield, traveled to Paris and observed the same artists who had recently protested the creation of a useless and monstrous tower, diligently painting pictures of la Tour Eiffel to sell to useless and monstrous American tourists. It wasn’t the works of art, however, that he admired, but rather it was the tubes from which the artists squeezed their paint.
You see, Lucius Sheffield was a second generation dentist, the son of Dr. Washington Sheffield, famous for the 1850 invention of modern toothpaste and the founder of the Sheffield Dentrifice Company. The Sheffield “Crème Dentifrice” was said to “[arrest] decay, [check] infection and [keep] the oral cavity sweet and pure.”
The only problem was that like the many similar products on the market by the late 19th century, it came in jars. To use it, a person dipped his toothbrush into the jar to apply the paste. For a single fella that worked pretty well, but if he happened to be a family man, well, eewwww!
Fortunately for Washington Sheffield (and for all of us who love our families, but would prefer not to share their dirty mouth germs) the proverbial apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Lucius brought the idea of the collapsible paint tube he’d observed in Paris back to his father who soon presented the world with its first tube of toothpaste.
With this major hygiene hurdle overcome, only one question remained, and it plagues humanity to this very day: Do you squeeze the tube from the end or from the middle?
I’ve been married, very happily, for nearly fourteen years now. But like every married couple, we had to learn to live with one another. Of course that means cobbling together holiday traditions from two separate families and creating something new. It means figuring out how to navigate household responsibilities and how to parent as a team. But it also means coming to a compromise on all those little habits you never even thought about before, like which direction the toilet paper should roll.
Enter the great toothpaste tube war of 2000. When we were first married, my husband and I lived in a drafty brick duplex in Rockford, Illinois. It was a great first home, but it had a tiny bathroom that wouldn’t accommodate even an extra tube of toothpaste.
He was raised in a family of meticulous bottom-up tube squeezers. I was raised (apparently by animals) in a home full of willy-nilly toothpaste squeezers. Our tubes were always crumpled any-which-way and when they approached empty, someone would have to spend time flattening them out to pinch the remaining paste up toward the opening while tightly rolling the end of the tube so the next person wouldn’t screw it up again.
Talk about marriage problems. Luckily my husband married a very generous woman and we were able to come to a compromise after some (heated) debate. We agreed that the toilet paper would always roll over the top (because that’s the way it should be) and that the toothpaste would be squeezed from the end of the tube (because it seemed important to him).
And almost fourteen years later, even though our bathroom storage is now roomy enough to accommodate two tubes of toothpaste, we have stuck with the original deal. I may even admit, in moments of weakness, that it might possibly make a little bit of sense to squeeze the tube his way. But in our current house, we also have the advantage that our children primarily use a different bathroom than we do and also a more bubblegum-ish flavored toothpaste. I admit it gives me some satisfaction to know that the proverbial apples haven’t fallen far from the tree. The boys squeeze their tube of toothpaste willy-nilly from the middle.
I realize, dear reader, that you likely have your own passionate opinions about toothpaste squeezing, toilet paper rolling, and probably other such household controversies. I’d love to hear about them. Just please remember that we are wandering into the territory of deeply held personal beliefs, so please be respectful.