While no one knows who was the first person to use a sliver of wood to pick food from his teeth, we do know when the toothpick went into mass production.

In the 1860s, Bostonian Charles Forster concluded that he world make his fortune mass producing toothpicks. Trouble was Forster was a blue-blooded New Englander without much mechanical ability.

Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant had the ability, and in fact, had created a machine that produced long thin strips of wood to make pegs for shoes. Forster realized that by cutting these strips into short lengths they were perfect for toothpicks, and he patented the process. By 1869 he was producing thousands of toothpicks every day.

Forster’s challenge was to stoke demand for manufactured toothpicks, an item most people whittled themselves as the need arose. Forster hired students from Harvard to dine at Ye Olde Union Oyster House. After dinner the men demanded toothpicks, and threatened not to patronize the restaurant unless toothpicks were available. Forster visited the Union Oyster House a few days later. Needless to say, the owner was eager to buy his toothpicks. Thus Forster became the world’s first toothpick mogul.

More interesting tidbits from Boston:

  • Founded in 1796 in a workshop across the street from Paul Revere’s shop, Shreve Crump & Low is the oldest jeweler in the United States.
  • The first subway system and the first marathon race were established in Boston in 1897.
  • Ye Olde Union Oyster House opened in 1826 and is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in America.
  • Established in 1795, Bell in Hand Tavern is the oldest continuously operating tavern.
  • The first World Series game was held in Boston in 1903. The game was held at the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds, since it would be 9 more years before Fenway Park opened.
  • The left field wall in Fenway Park is nicknamed the “Green Monster,” but for years it was painted blue and covered with advertisements. Responding to complainants from hitters, Boston Red Sox owner Thomas Yawkey removed most of the advertisements in 1947 and painted the wall green.