Though we now may take tampons for granted, they did not always resemble the types that we see in stores today. Women have most likely used tampons for thousands of years. The first tampons are believed to have been used amongst the ancient Egyptians. These disposable tampons were made of soft papyrus. Later, in the fifth century B.C., Hippocrates documented usage of tampons by the ancient Greeks. These tampons were made of a piece of wood that was wrapped in lint and could be inserted to the vagina.1 Other materials that were commonly used for tampons included wool in Rome, paper in Japan, grass in Africa, and vegetable fibers in Indonesia. Sponges and cotton wadding became prevalent later in Europe in the 17th century.2
Starting in the 1800s, people used wads of cotton during surgeries to absorb any discharge and to slow hemorrhaging. From this stemmed the idea that cotton plugs could be used to improve tampons.3
Previous to the invention of tampons, women used external pads of cloth to absorb menstrual blood during their periods. These pads were typically washed and reused many times.3
Disposable products were unavailable until the mid-1900s, when belted pads were created. These pads were attached to belts and “stayed in place,” similar to a diaper. These disposable pads became widespread because they were more sanitary and convenient.2
Then in 1929, Dr. Earle C. Haas a physician from Denver, Colorado started working on a tampon that could be distributed in mass quantities.3 He was said to get the idea of a compressed cotton tampon after seeing the discomfort that his wife and other women felt from large external pads. He focused on making sure that women did not have to touch an unused tampon during insertion. He came up with the idea of two telescoping tubes: a smaller one that held the cotton, and a slightly larger one to help place the cotton in the vagina.3 These tampons with applicators were first developed by Haas in 1931 and marketed to be an absorbent of menstrual flow. Gertrude Tendrich, who later founded the Tampax brand, bought the patent and tampons hit the market in 1933.4
Tampons are similar to pads in that they are designed to absorb a woman’s menstrual blood and shedding endometrium. They are now made out of cotton fibers that have been pressed together and fit to a cylinder shape so that they can be easily inserted into the vagina. Tampons come in many different sizes and have various absorbency levels. Tampons can be purchased at most local drug stores and pharmacies.5
1. Bellis, Mary. "The History of Tampons." About.com Inventors. About.com, 17 June 2015. Web.
2. "History of Menstrual Products." History of Menstrual Products. Footprint Choices, 2012. Web.
3. "History of Tampons and Tampax." About Tampax. Procter & Gamble, 2014. Web.
4. Finley, Harry. "Early Commercial Tampons at MUM, the Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health." Early Commercial Tampons at MUM, the Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health. N.p., 2016. Web.
5. "Using Your First Tampon." Center for Young Women’s Health. Boston's Children Hospital, 2014. Web.
Last Updated 1 Feb 2016.