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Jan 31, 2019Print this page

The History and Evolution of the Swab

History of the Swab

Consider the swab – it has been around for less than a century. It began quite simply, chronicled in 1923 as the inspiration of a Polish-American named Leo Gerstanzang. Today, the swab, no longer a simple tool but rather a broad range of tipped applicators, is used for everything from patient care and microbiology to forensics and manufacturing.

Puritan dates back to 1919, before that first cotton swab appeared on scene in 1923. That’s right!   Puritan began the production of toothpicks 100 years ago, before Leo devised his swab. Throughout the year, we’re celebrating our 100th year in business in a number of ways. And you can see a timeline of our evolution here.

First known as the Minto Toothpick Company, the company developed a line of single-use items. From toothpicks, the line grew to include wood items for food service and then medical use, adding applicators, tongue depressors and other similar products. The Puritan brand cotton tip applicator, commonly called a “swab,” has been the gold standard for swabs used in patient care ever since the first case left our plant.

Other brands have since become familiar, like the well-known Q-Tip®, but most are now imported.  Puritan continues to manufacture all Puritan brand tipped applicators, of all kinds, in Guilford, Maine.

It Didn't Stop There

The swab has evolved over the years. While you can still buy Q-tips at the drugstore, swabs today come in any number of shapes and sizes; and inventors are continuing to innovate on Gerstenzang’s simple design. Now swabs are available with wooden, plastic, paper and metal handles, and any number of tip-types, such as foam, sterile cotton, polyester, and flock.

These handy devices have made their way into dozens of useful applications. Every day, we talk with Puritan swab users who tell us of their work in the research wild elephant populations, or in providing lifesaving medical services in impoverished nations, testing for the flu, and much more. 

Perhaps, without Gerstenzang’s ingenuity all those years ago, we’d still be the Minto Toothpick Company – or perhaps not!  Innovation has been the hallmark of Puritan since 1919.

Want to learn more about how you can use our swabs for diagnostics, DNA testing, industrial manufacturing, or specimen collection? Contact one of our knowledgeable product specialists today.

Contact a sales rep, today!

Topics: Puritan, Medical, Diagnostics


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