Americans might still be whittling their own toothpicks, if not for the marketing genius and borderline con-artistry of Charles Forster, writes Henry Petroski, author of a new book on toothpick history, in Slate. Forster swore to make a fortune mass-producing the pointy sticks, but had trouble finding buyers. So he hired young men to demand toothpicks in stores and restaurants. Soon, orders poured in.
Once the picks were in circulation, usage drift took over. The picks became a fashion accessory. Gentlemen chewed the sticks in public, implying recent patronage at a fancy restaurant. Throughout the years uses have sprung up, and with them new pick iterations. Could Forster have imagined the silver picks now pinioning hors d'oeuvres? Knowing him, yes, he probably could.