The History of Hand SanitizerBreaking News
tags: public health, coronavirus, hand sanitizer
But while alcohol has been in use as an antiseptic since the late-1800s least, the exact origins of hand sanitizer are up for debate.
One version of the story points to Lupe Hernandez, a nursing student in Bakersfield, California in 1966, as the inventor of hand sanitizer after combining alcohol and gel for use by doctors in situations where they don’t have time to access soap and warm water before treating patients.
However, a recent investigation by the Smithsonian Institution historian Joyce Bedi was unable to turn up any trace of Hernandez, or any evidence of a U.S. patent for hand sanitizer under that name from the 1960s.
There’s also Sterillium, which the German company Hartmann claims was “the world’s first marketable alcohol-based hand disinfectant” when it hit European shelves in 1965. It’s made with glycerin and 75% alcohol.
Still, others trace modern hand sanitizer back to Goldie and Jerry Lippman, the married couple that developed a waterless hand cleaner in 1946 for rubber plant workers who previously used harsh chemicals like kerosene and benzene to remove graphite and carbon black from their hands at the end of their shifts. The product, which they called Gojo (a portmanteau of their names) is a mix of petroleum jelly, mineral oil and less than 5% alcohol that’s still used today by auto mechanics and other workers to clean off substances like grease and oil.
The Lippman’s mixed their first batches of Gojo in a washing machine in the basement of Goldie’s parents’ Akron, Ohio home, where the couple was living at the time, according to The New Yorker. They put the resulting product in pickle jars and sold it out of the trunk of their car.
Over the ensuing decades, Gojo continued selling their products as industrial cleaners. Then, in 1988, the company invented the hand gel Purell, which consists of 70% ethyl alcohol as its primary ingredient, along with propylene glycol. While Purell is now the world’s best-selling hand sanitizer, it took some time for stores to carry the product that most everyday customers weren’t really asking for. As such, Gojo did not release Purell onto the consumer market until 1997.
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