The Smell of Shame

How deodorant became omnipresent in America.

Episode 218: The Smell of Shame: How Deodorant Became Omnipresent in America by Distillations Podcast

For as long as humans have been around they’ve worried about their smell. “That’s why we’ve had perfumes for as long as we’ve had people,” says Cari Casteel, a CHF research fellow studying the history of deodorant. But, Casteel says, “it wasn’t until the late 19th, early 20th century that the technology and the chemistry catches up to what people want.”

Today most Americans don’t give a second thought to using deodorant. In fact, some 90% of the population slathers the stuff on. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries deodorants and antiperspirants were new, and their makers had to convince potential customers (all women) that perfumes alone weren’t cutting it and that their body odor and perspiration were unacceptable. They did so by preying on women’s insecurities, an approach later used successfully on men.

In this episode we explore some of the funny, disturbing, sexist, and quirky advertisements from deodorant’s history and discover that today’s commercials are strangely similar to those of the past.

Show Clock

00:01 Intro
01:20 Odorono ad
03:57 The history and science of deodorant  
09:55 Old ads vs. new ads  


Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guest:  Cari Casteel
Producer:  Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Additional Production by Kyrie Greenberg 


Music courtesy of the Audio Network.