A project by Column Five

A historical look at that unmentionable time of the month

Centuries of cycles and a progression of products reveal how society has addressed the business of menstruation throughout history.

Ancient Era

Ancient Egyption women fashion tampons out of softened papyrus. In other parts of the world, materials like soft wool, paper, vegetable fiber, grass, animal skin, and moss are used for makeshift tampons and pads.

Middle Ages

Peasant women mix menstrual blood with seed grain, using it as fertilizer.


Women use rags under their dresses or bleed into their clothing. Suspenders and elastic belts eventually become popular for holding up menstrual cloths.


An early form of the menstrual cup attaches cup and wire to a belt.


Johnson & Johnson introduces Lister’s Towels, the first commercial disposable sanitary napkin. But public modesty of the era makes the product a commercial failure.


Kimberly-Clarke introduces Kotex after French nurses in WWI used cellucotton bandages as sanitary napkins.


Kotex’s first advertising campaign appears in Ladies' Home Journal, featuring words like "dainty" and illustrations of women in high society.


Johnson & Johnson’s Modess pad magazine advertising features “silent purchase coupons,” saving women the embarrassment of asking for pads aloud.


Dr. Earle Haas patents the first modern tampon, made of cotton with a cardboard tube applicator. He sells the patent for $32K to Gertrude Tenderich, who starts Tampax.


The pad goes mainstream, as Modess launches its famous “Modess...because” campaign—enlisting notable designers, models, and photographers to create full-page ads of elegant, finely dressed women.


Stayfree debuts the first pads with adhesive strips, eliminating the need for sanitary belts.


Carefree introduces panty liners, opening up a new feminine hygiene market.


Dozens of cases of Toxic Shock Syndrome result in a commercial recall and prompt further health studies and FDA approval processes.


Embracing new approaches to realistic advertising, Playtex Sport markets a new line of tampons for active women.


Raising $65,000 in a Kickstarter campaign for period-proof underwear, Miki and Radha Agrawal launch THINX absorbent undergarments.


The sanitary protection industry records sales of $3 billion in the United States, up 2% from the previous year.


During the Super Bowl—where 30-second spots reportedly cost up to $4.5 million—Always runs a 60-second commercial for its “Like A Girl” campaign, aimed at boosting girls’ confidence. Canada eliminates the "tampon tax" on feminine hygiene products, reclassifying menstrual hygiene products as a necessity rather than a luxury good.


Global Industry Analysts forecast the global feminine hygiene industry to hit $15.2 billion.

Mum.org; Womenshealthmag.com; Flow: The Cultural History of Menstruation; The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation; PRweb.com

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