William Addis (entrepreneur)

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William Addis (1734–1808) was an English entrepreneur believed to have produced the first mass-produced toothbrush in 1780.[1][2]

Addis was born in 1734 in England, probably in Clerkenwell,[note 1] London.[3]

In 1770, Addis had been jailed for causing a riot in Spitalfields.[4] While in prison, and observing the use of a broom to sweep the floor, he decided that the prevalent method used to clean teeth at the time – crushed shell or soot – with a cloth was ineffective and could be improved. To that end, he saved a small animal bone left over from the meal he had eaten the previous night, into which he drilled small holes. He then obtained some bristles from one of his guards, which he tied in tufts that he then passed through the holes in the bone, and which he finally sealed with glue.

After his release, he started a business to manufacture the toothbrushes he had built, and he soon became very rich. He died in 1808, and left the business to his eldest son, also called William, and it stayed in family ownership until 1996.[5] Under the name Wisdom Toothbrushes, the company now manufactures 70 million toothbrushes per year in the UK.[6]

By 1840 toothbrushes were being mass-produced in England, France, Germany, and Japan.[7]


  1. ^ Most online sources refer to "Clerkenwald", but no such place exists; references to Clerkenwald appear only in text about Addis; and his early history is in East London.


  1. ^ "Who invented the toothbrush and when was it invented?". The Library of Congress. 2007-04-04. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
  2. ^ History of Dentistry and Dental Care
  3. ^ "William Addis, and the story of the modern toothbrush". Mike Rendell. 2012-05-29. Retrieved 2015-01-06.
  4. ^ "William Addis, inventor of the toothbrush". eastlondonhistory.com. 16 August 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2018.
  5. ^ "History of ADDIS"
  6. ^ "New jobs joy in toothbrushes", cambridge-news.co.uk
  7. ^ The company founded by Addis in 1780

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