Paper handkerchief′s clouded origins | News | DW | 13.08.2019
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Paper handkerchief's clouded origins

Call them paper handkerchiefs, tissues or nose wipes; Patented 125 years ago in southern Germany, it took until 1929 before a Nuremberg firm made its breakthrough. Last year, 148,000 tons of the throwaways were sold.

Papermaker and chemist Gustav Krumm had his hygiene invention patented in imperial Berlin in 1894, partly to help against ailments born in air droplets, such as tuberculosis.

But his fine throwaway cellulose sheets, dipped in glycerin to make them supple, failed to catch on among Swabians renowned for their thrifty caution in his home region around Göppingen, near Stuttgart.

Perhaps it was aversion to symbols of nobility: Perfumed handkerchiefs historically made from washable woven fabric ended up costing aristocrats their lives at the hands of French revolutionaries, speculated Zurich's NZZ newspaper recently.

Patent refined in 'roaring' 1920s

In the 1929, the Nurnberg firm Camelia refined Krumm's patent. The throwaway became "Tempo” [denoting speed], establishing a prolific international trademark.

Its Jewish owner Oskar Rosenfelder and brother Emil went into exile after being forced by local Nazis to sell up at great loss to Gustav Schickedanz, who after World War Two ran Quelle, a former large mail-order outlet and faced accusations of profiteering

Good earnings for a piece of paper

Germany's statistical office Destatis noted Tuesday — on the eve of the Krumm patent's 125 aniversary — that Germany's manufacture of paper handkerchiefs last year earned €254 million ($284 million). 

As Germany debates the merits of throwaway cups and plastic bags, its Federal Environmental Office still accepts the compromise of hand tissues made "100 percent” from recycled wood fibers that help save on high usages of wood, energy, chemicals and water.

The office also urges consumers to check the label fine print on tissue packaging. 

"Increasingly paper fiber for the German hygiene paper market originate from Brazil  — "also from ecologically controversial plantations,” it warns.

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