From its inception, the condom has been a morally ambiguous object. Does it serve to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease, or is its chief function birth control? Well, either or both, actually. Its meaning and significance are socially constructed.
Julius Schmid, a German immigrant, first started making condoms (both skin sheaths and rubbers) during the black market era of Comstock. By 1930 he could openly register the trademark names Ramses and Sheik with the U.S. Patent Office, and the condom business made him a millionare.
Youngs marketed the Trojan line in pharmaceutical journals, guaranteeing the highest product quality among condom makers. In 1933 Youngs adopted machinery designed by Frederick Killian of Akron for mass production of latex condoms on a conveyor line. Latex (milky liquid tapped from rubber trees) condoms quickly emerged as viable rival to rubber products.
Many condoms made by other companies, notably Texide and Dean, had an unacceptable failure rate, leading to the cessation of production by those companies between 1938 and 1941. That effectively left the field to industry giants Schmid and Youngs.
Celebrating Condom Week at the Dittrick.
Just around the corner we have a couple of events for Condom Week 2011. On Monday February 14 Science Cafe Cleveland wlll present Cloaking Cupid's Arrow: contraception and reproductive science at Great Lakes Brewing Co. I'll be talking about the history of contraception and my friend Tony Tizzano, M.D., will discuss contemporary reproductive science and technology. Join us! Drinks start at 6:30PM in the Tasting Room of GLBC at 2701 Carroll Avenue, off West 25th near the Westside Market. Program starts at 7:00PM
And earlier in the day on the 14th, tune into The Sound of Ideas on WCPN, Cleveland's NPR affiliate. Tony and I will discuss the history and science of contraception. Listen to the live audiostream on 90.3 FM beginning at 9:00AM.
Then, on Saturday February 19 Planned Parenthood of Northeast Ohio is hosting National Condom Week Party at the Dittrick, from 6 to 8 PM. See the PPNEO website for details.
p.s. - there's plenty written on the condom, but not much good cultural history. Here are some exceptionally thoughtful and interesting offerings:
Joshua Gamson, "Rubber Wars: Struggles over the Condom in the United States," Journal of the History of Sexuality 1 (1990): 262-282.
Paul Jobling, "Playing Safe: The Politics of Pleasure and Gender in the Promotion of Condoms in Britain." Journal of Design History 10 (1997): 53-70.
Andrea Tone, Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America (2001), esp. Chap. 8: Condom Kings pp.183-202.