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Body Odor Through the Ages: A Brief History of Deodorant

I got my first stick of deodorant as a preteen. It was Teen Spirit and made me smell like baby powder and berries. From the first swipe I loved it "“ it called me TEEN "“ and have continued to love this special product that keeps me so fresh and so clean. I wouldn't call it an obsession "“ I reserve that for my books and shoes "“ but these days I keep at least a dozen different kinds of deodorant and antiperspirants on hand. Unfortunately, not everyone shares my love of smelling good. On many occasions throughout history, things have gotten downright funky.

Being stinky and human evolution

When we lived in caves and had just figured out the whole standing upright thing, we were less concerned about body odor. Put simply, humans stunk. Anthropologists now believe that our funky selves helped keep us from being some predator's dinner. Our scent was so rank that the animal about to eat us would actually recoil in horror at the smell and would move on to eat something less repulsive. Now that's a defense mechanism.

Ancient Egyptians

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When they weren't building pyramids, the ancient Egyptians were working hard at masking their own stench. They invented the perfumed bath and would follow it up by applying a liberal amount of perfume to their underarms. Egyptians also tried using carob, incense, and even porridge as deodorant. Women would place globs of scented wax on their heads that would slowly melt throughout the day, spreading the pleasing scent as well as masking the not so pleasant. Messy, but effective.

Ancient Romans and Greeks

The ancient Greeks took a page from the Egyptians, constantly bathing and dousing themselves in perfume. Greek poet Homer once said that good hosts offered their guests baths and aromatic oils. Romans were so fanatical about smelling good that they not only took baths in perfume, they soaked their clothes in it, doused their horses in it, and even perfumed their household pets.

The Middle Ages

Things took a turn for the stank during the Middle Ages, when the church decided that being naked was bad. Even in the bath. So people all but stopped cleaning themselves. Those with the money for it tried to cover the stink by using perfume, a practice that continued well into the 19th century. Those without money just remained fragrant.

Mums the word

The first trademarked deodorant "“ Mum "“ came out in 1888. Created by an unknown Philadelphia inventor, Mum was a paste applied to the underarms. It was soon followed by Everdry, the first effective antiperspirant. Everdry was an aluminum chloride solution that was dabbed on with a cotton swab to less than desirable results. Everdry took forever to dry, was messy, and had a nasty habit of stinging the user and eating through clothes. But hey, at least you weren't sweating. In the mid 1950s, inspired by the ball point pen, the first roll on (Ban) was released. Ten years later, the first aerosol (Right Guard) launched a multi-billion dollar industry.

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[1971 Right Guard ad courtesy of my Rear in Sears.]

Today, about 95% of Americans use deodorant. Whether you wear roll on, use a crystal, take an internal deodorant pill (does that really work?) or even make your own home concoction, just know that the rest of us truly appreciate it.

Stefanie Fontanez is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com. Her last story was about the plague.

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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