How did the Glue Stick get its shape?

Lipstick has probably been invented several times throughout history. The Mesoptamians were already applying powdered crystals and precious stones on their lips many thousands of years ago as makeup. Since painting on cave walls with sticks and pigments is much older than the wonders of Babylon, someone must have tried it on themselves before then.

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Image Courtesy –

As we’ve strolled through the ancient and modern stories of stationery, we’ve realised that stationery is one of our earliest inventions. Maybe makeup is even older. Besides, if you think about it, makeup is just another form of stationery but even more ubiquitous. The canvas is not only free but we’re also carrying it around with us all the time. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that makeup has borrowed from stationery and stationery has been inspired by the world of makeup for a very long time.

An ancient Arab cosmetologist was the first to describe a stick of lip colour, but these lipsticks and balms remained a mostly homemade concoction. Hundreds of years later perfumers in Paris were the first to sell commercial lip colours to their clients, wrapped in paper rolls. It was a fancy but messy affair.

From Lipstick to Glue Stick

In 1915 a patent was filed for a lipstick packaging with a lever on the side to raise and lower the stick in a neater way. In 1923 the first swivel style tube was patented and many improvements followed.

The Ladies home journal 1948 14763610124
Image Courtesy – Wikimedia Commons

Decades later, in 1967, researcher Dr. Wolfgang Dierichs was taking a flight when he noticed a woman across the aisle carefully applying her lipstick from a tube and retracting the stick to put it away without a fuss. That innocuous action set off lightbulbs in his head.

You know what else besides lipstick can be very messy to apply and could have really used a clever retracting stick? Glue made by his employer Henkel, of course! He shared his idea with them when he was back from his trip and work began on trying to invent a “glue stick”.

We take the glue stick for granted today but it wasn’t a straightforward matter back then. All the glue they made was liquid. In time they figured out that mixing the adhesive with a soap gel made it solid enough but storable. The adhesive effect still kicked in when the gel was rubbed on surfaces like paper and dried out. Two years after the idea on a plane, the first Pritt Stick was launched and school projects and sealed office packages would never be as much of a sticky mess again.

Image of Pritt Stick
Image Courtesy – Wikimedia Commons

The innovations didn’t stop there. Glue sticks sell in the billions of pieces world over and all the waste plastic was a concern. In the early 2000s more degradable materials began to be used and Pritt Sticks are currently made of locally grown potato starch to also save on the environmental impact of transporting the raw materials. The next time you twist open a tube of glue stick, remember that this modern marvel in your hand can be thought of as the love-child of a lipstick tube, a French fry and glue. Stationery is basically magic.

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