Everbody has used this product at some time or other in some form or other. Sometimes it is used to clean the wax from your ears, and sometimes to clean dust from delicate instruments. Many kick themselves for not patenting it when they knew about it.

So what are Q-Tips? It is such a simple silly thingummy – a piece of thick plastic or cardboard with cotton wrapped at each end! Q-Tips are today, a registered trademark of Chesebrough-Ponds, Inc, USA. However, it was invented in 1920 by a Polish-born American, Leo Gerstenzang.

What are Q-Tips?
What are Q-Tips? [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
Legend has it that Leo saw his wife using cotton wrapped around a toothpick to clean their baby’s ears like a swab. Leo was amazed and angry at his wife for he felt that a small error on her part could pierce the baby’s ear or worse, make the child deaf!

Leo then decided to make a ready-made cotton swab, instead of a makeshift one like a toothpick that could be used to perform the same task without any fear or injury or risk.

Though it was a simple concept, it took him several years to work the irregularities out. Since safety was his first concern, he had to discount wood splints. It stood the risk of splintering and breaking, or poking.

Next Gerstenzang had a problem with the cotton swab. He wanted cotton on either end of the cotton “ball”. He also needed to get an equal amount on both ends of the swab and to design a way to keep it from falling off or little bits of fluff sticking in the ear.

He worked on his concept for many years. At this point, he named his company the Leo Gerstenzang Infant Novelty Company to market his new creation.

Now he had to think of what to name his product. He came up with various ideas and names. At last he chose the name Baby Gays.

However, he found that Baby Gays was not a marketable name and in 1926, he changed the name to Q-Tips Baby Gays.

But what did the Q in Q-Tips stand for? Q stood for “Quality”. Later, the word Baby Gays part was dropped altogether and thus Q-Tips was born.

Q-Tips is today made from thick cardboard with two small cotton swabs at the end. Though doctors, even today warn people from insert these things in the ear to clean the wax it is surely a better device than inserting a pencil, toothpick, safety pin or any of the hundreds of other things people insert in their ear to remove the wax!