What is the History of Listerine&Reg?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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The history of Listerine® is quite fascinating, chronicling the shifts which a product undergoes along its way to becoming famous. Listerine® has been used historically for all sorts of things, from cleaning floors to treating gonorrhea; it wasn't until the 1970s that Listerine® came to be used exclusively as a mouthwash. This product also essentially created the mouthwash section at the drugstore, by generating consumer demand for products to treat bad breath.

Listerine® is named for Doctor Joseph Lister, who pioneered the idea of using disinfectants in hospitals and during surgery. Lister's work paved the way to the modern antiseptic operating room, and he is responsible for a dramatic downturn in patient mortality which occurred in the 19th century. Listerine® was originally formulated in 1879 by Dr. Nicole Dyer Lawrence and Christian Bach as a surgical antiseptic. It was used to clean surgical sites and irrigate wounds, reducing the risk of dangerous infections after surgery.

By 1895, Listerine® was also being used in dental care, and in 1914 Listerine® became the first mouthwash to be offered over the counter without a prescription. The company claimed that Listerine® would eliminate bad breath, and also that it could be used to treat colds and sore throats. At the time, Listerine® was also used to clean wounds on the field in battle during the First World War, and doctors used it as an all-purpose antiseptic as well.


In the 1920s, the manufacturers of Listerine® started a bold advertising campaign which was designed to target bad breath. Before the advent of this campaign, bad breath was not a major concern for most people; the Listerine® manufacturers popularized the term "halitosis" and put bad breath into the forefront of the minds of consumers, encouraging them to solve the problem with regular Listerine® usage. Sales of the product exploded, and bad breath became a major social concern.

This marketing campaign marked a major transition in the history of a product which was originally designed for use as an antiseptic, and the primary use for Listerine® began to shift to oral care, although claims of cough and cold efficacy endured until the 1970s. Modern consumers can choose between multiple formulations which are designed to attack germs in the mouth in the hopes of creating better oral health in addition to reducing bad breath. Although Listerine® can be an effective supplement to regular oral care, flossing and brushing are highly recommended, as are trips to a dentist to monitor your oral health.


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Post 16

I was researching different types of mouthwashes and their effectiveness, and I was surprised to find that although powerful alcohol based mouthwashes killed all cells living in the mouth, they are inferior to non alcohol based mouthwashes -- like Paro for instance -- because they also kill good cells.

I thought about this for a long time and it didn’t make sense to me that Listerine (probably the most used mouthwash) had such a fundamental flaw. And after a lot of research, I still couldn’t find an answer.

I want to thank post 15 for answering that question, I'm sure not many who are reading this appreciate the answer he gave, but unless you research the topic you won’t realize how hard it was to find an answer. Thank you.

Post 15

I consider Listerine a commercial success with a place in the hall of fame of marketing. In addition, it happens to be a remarkable safety-effectiveness compromise: it kills bacteria, fungi and viruses (most bacteria die if exposed more than 5 percent of ethyl alcohol, yeasts and HIV-virus die if exposed to over 15 percent (by volume) ethyl alcohol. So do the cells of the soft tissues of mouth exposed to Listerine, too.

However, human mouth cell death is not a health problem, since the mouth soft tissue regenerate so fast that the death of the outer human cell layers only shortens the lifespan of the cells by tens of minutes, hardly more than an hour.

Pretty well done for a

germicide to be sold over the counter for more than a 100 years! In addition, Listerine does not even promote mouth cancer, whereas the use of alcohol beverages with similar ethanol concentration do.

To sum it up: The stuff I would take to a remote tropic island if I my yacht was wrecked and I had to survive with a sexy lady for some time.

Post 12

If the guy in post no. 10 is telling the truth, he should be very rich. The agreement between Dr. Lister and Mr. Lambert was done on a handshake.

Today, a portion of every bottle of listerine sold is given to their heirs. Many lawyers have tried to break the contract, but cannot break a handshake. I worked for Warner Lambert for 30 years.

Post 11

I have a listerine bottle,and am not sure how old it might be. It has Lambert Pharmacal Company on the bottom. And I would like to know if it is worth anything.

Post 10

Thank you anon11258. My Great grandap is the one who loaned Mr.Lambert the money for the patent. The man who invented this (though not by himself was related to me) and take a wild guess: my grandpa never got his money back! Anyway, my grandmother's name was Olive Lambert. I have heard stories of this since I was a kid.

Post 9

man up 21544! i use listerine all the time and I'm 13. it doesn't burn that badly.

Post 7

Used it for a project. Thanks, guy.

Post 6

Since I was product manager on Listerine in 1962, I can assure you it was primarily a mouthwash at that time, but did make cough/cold claims.

It was an ad campaign in 1969 that drove Listerine over $200MM in sales. It was "Hate/Love" (I hate it but I love it twice a day). Listerine gained an 85 percent market share and eclipsed Scope at the time. This was just as interesting as the halitosis claims of the 20's.

Post 5

Abragolas you are shortsighted! Where do you think did Listeria monocytogenes get its name from?

Post 4

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "halitosis" was used as early as 1874.

Post 3

I wonder if the name "Listerine" was derived from the bacteria Listeria monocytogenes.



Post 2

Listerine original and listerine less harsh are both the same less harsh still is the exact same and still burns.

Post 1

It was Dr. Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert (as in Warner-Lambert) who developed and marketed the antiseptic formula named for Dr. Lister. May I suggest you visit the McNeil-PPC (manufacturers of the modern product) website.

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