Willy-Nilly from the Middle

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.”

Dr. Washington Wentworth Sheffield. You can't tell from this picture, but this man has great teeth.
Dr. Washington Wentworth Sheffield. You can’t tell from this picture, but this man has great teeth.

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?

Fewer arguments, but much more ick.
Fewer arguments, but much more ick.

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).

I have no idea who invented this handy little squeezing contraption, but it may have saved my marriage.
I have no idea who invented this handy little squeezing contraption, but it may have saved my marriage.

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.


You can't teach this kind of behavior. It's innate.
You can’t teach this kind of behavior. It’s innate.

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.


12 thoughts on “Willy-Nilly from the Middle

  1. I love this! So glad you managed to find a solution instead of ending up creating a remake of the old Turner/Douglas/DeVito film War of the Roses.

    They never address this stuff in premarriage counseling. Often, they’re so focused on discussing religion, family, whether or not to have children, that they forget the little details that can make you look at your spouse in horror, like if you put used tissues in your pockets after blowing your nose or think the Pontiac GTO is an attractive car.

      1. When my husband and I went through premarriage counseling, we had to take something called the Focus Test. It has a bazillion questions on it to help you gauge where your answers are different from your future spouse’s. Whenever something unexpected comes up–and even after nearly 13 years of marriage, we still discover things about each other we didn’t know–one of us will inevitably say in a haughty tone, “Well. THAT didn’t come up on the Focus Test!”

  2. Patti Quigg

    Loved this. I am also from a family of willy-nilly from the middle toothpaste squeezer. Luckily, my husband has his own bathroom and his own tube of tooth paste.

    1. Another great solution! Funny thing, though, at my house my husband never noticed until he read this post that our boys squeeze from the middle. Now that he knows, he says it bothers him a little.

  3. Bruce Goodman

    I found it easier just to give up cleaning my teeth. (No I didn’t! No I didn’t! Just kidding!) Entertaining posting. How you think up such wonderfully bizarre yet interesting topics is beyond me!

  4. Coming from a marriage to a willy-nilly middle squeezer (the toothpaste’s middle, not mine… usually… 🙂 ), you must tell me where that squeezing gadget comes from and how to get it!

    1. I wish I could tell you. I think my mom gave it to us in a Christmas stocking one year. I suspect it came from the dollar bin somewhere. The boys have one, too. They won’t use it 🙂

  5. Oh Dear Practical Historian, you have indeed proved your practicality in your acceptance that methodical squeezing is the better choice. But while toilet paper is obviously meant to be rolled from the top, as the printed brands would be wasting ink otherwise, for us it proves more practical to roll from the back. (We do not purchase inked paper anyway.) It was disturbing when my boyfriend would actually turn the rolls around backward in MY home when he visited. That was a huge red flag that flapped it’s ugly head during our pre-marital sessions. I married him anyway and do not regret adopting his backward ways. When the cats play with the toilet paper like a scratching post, it simply spins instead of coming unraveled. Isn’t that what a good helpmeet does? Introduces another way of looking at life’s mysteries?

    1. I think you must be a better woman than I. I’m not sure I could jump into a marriage commitment with someone who felt compelled to reverse my toilet paper roll. But then again maybe it’s better to know exactly what kind of crazy you’re getting into. 😉

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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