Leo Gerstenzang (June 3, 1892 – October 1973) was a Polish-born American who in 1923 invented the cotton swab or Q-Tips. His product, which he named "Baby Gays", went on to become one of the most widely-sold brand names, where "Q" as in "Q-tip" stood for quality. There are many anecdotes about how Mr. Gerstenzang came to create this invention. One goes like this:
- "One day in 1923, Leo Gerstenzang found himself watching his wife applying cotton wads to toothpicks in an attempt to reach hard-to-clean areas. Gerstenzang, inspired, soon produced a one-piece cotton swab."
Gerstenzang was born in Warsaw. He emigrated to Chicago, Illinois in 1912. From 1918–1919, he returned to Europe as a representative of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. In 1919, he was still living in Chicago, and became a naturalized US citizen there on September 29, 1919. By 1921, he had moved to New York City.
He founded a company, called the Leo Gerstenzang Infant Novelty Company, to market his new product. In 1926, he changed the name of the product from Baby Gays to Q-Tips Baby Gays, with the Q standing for "quality". Eventually the Baby Gays part was dropped and the product was simply called Q-Tips.
Though commonly used as an ear cleaner, doctors today do not advise using the Q-Tip for ears because of sensitivity of the eardrum.
The science quad at Brandeis University is named after Gerstenzang, who donated the funding for its construction.