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Trivia: What popular brand of antiseptic connected with personal hygiene is named after the British surgeon who pioneered sterile surgery?

A: Listerine from Joseph Lister.


Joseph Lawrence and Jordan Wheat Lambert of St. Louis, Missouri, founded Listerine in 1879 as a surgical antiseptic for dentists to use for oral care. It was also sold in a distilled form as a floor cleaner. The product didn’t really succeed until the 1920s when it was marketed as a solution for the problem of chronic halitosis, a.k.a. bad breath. Within seven years of remarketing the product, the company’s revenue rose from $115,000 to over $8 million.


The product of Listerine wanted to promote itself as an antiseptic, using the slogan “kill germs that cause bad breath.”


The company’s reasoning behind choosing Listerine as the name for their product was to honor Joseph Lister. Joseph Lister was a British surgeon who promoted and seriously advanced the idea of sterile surgery in the late 19th and early 20th century. He introduced carbolic acid/phenol to sterilize surgical instruments and to clean wounds. His ideas and advancements in the realm of surgery helped reduce post-operative infections and made surgery generally safer for patients. In addition to his advancements in sterile surgery, he also developed a better way of repairing kneecaps and improved the technique of mastectomies. In 1897, he was honored as a Baron for his successes in the medical field and his discoveries. After his death, the barony became extinct.