Sometimes a patent covers an invention which is so obviously an improvement on the state of the art that you wonder why no one have though about it before… and other times it covers an invention that history have passed by. George L Street Jr’s patent from August 1908 is one of the later.
The title of the patent is “toilet-brush”, but reading the patent makes it abundantly clear that what it means is a brushed used for a person performing one’s toilette and not for cleaning a potty. The meaning of words can drift over time…
Returning to the patent, it is claimed to be a “a certain new and useful Improvement” over previous brushes used for personal grooming, “especially applicable to shaving and tooth brushes”. As to why the brushes used for personal grooming needed to be improved, lets turn to the text of the patent:
One of the objects of the invention is to eliminate the use of a shaving cup, and cake or stick or of any detergent and holder therefor, such as is liable by repeated use to accumulate and harbor impurities and disease producing’ germs…
As to how this was to be achieved… for starters, the brushes were designed to allow easy cleaning of the base of the bristles (aka: the glue bump). This was supposedly achieved by making the brush capable of being opened up; the drawings that accompanies the text shows hinges along one side of the handle.
Freedom from the perceived bio-hazard on your shaving soap or in your shaving cup came from the ability to place soap directly inside the brush after opening it up. To quote from the patent text:
…an attenuated, pliant body of soap or detergent of proper size for a single use and which soap or detergent will lie .within or between the bristles and partake of their movement…
One version of the brush showed in the drawing includes a storage space in the handle for several of the soap wafers – useful, one would imagine, for a travel brush.
The patent also describe how the soap wafer would be made from a pliable material such as paraffined paper partially covered in soap, since soap by itself isn’t structurally sound and would disintegrate before a lather could be worked up.
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see why Mr George L Street Jr’s brush didn’t stick around… not only is the danger of germs on our soaps significantly less than the patentee seems to have believed, but a shaving brush with one or two small hinges is an invitation for a broken brush. You would also be locked in to a single source of shaving soap; however this was probably less of a worry in 1908 than most of traditional wetshavers would consider it in 2018.