Henry Petroski


On his book The Toothpick: Technology and Culture

Cover Interview of January 01, 2009

Editor’s note

Originally, this interview ran on the Rorotoko cover page under the headline

“The story of the toothpick industry is the story of American industry.”

We highlighted two quotes.

On the first page:

“By the 1880s, wooden toothpicks were expected to be available in restaurants and hotels, and it was common to find dandies in top hat and tails, accompanied by a crutch-handled walking stick, chewing on a toothpick in front of the most fashionable establishments.  Groups of such gentlemen, especially when they walked several abreast down a city street, came to be referred to as ‘crutch and toothpick brigades.’  It was not long before young ladies took up the habit, causing no end of commentary in newspapers and magazines.  Like fads generally, such practices were abandoned by the better classes as they filtered down to the poorer ones.”

On the second:

“Whether simple or complex, an object and its industry face fundamentally the same issues relating to mechanization, raw materials, quality control, marketing, new product development, supply and demand, competition, and every other aspect of making products and doing business.  The simpler the product, the simpler it is to articulate lessons.  That is not to say that the lessons themselves are simple.”