Let us consider the humble toothpick. Transporter of cheese cubes. Martini olive anchors. Tester of brownie doneness. Surely these three inch soldiers keeping guard over restaurant hostess stands have long been a staple of the hospitality industry.
While people have been using toothpicks since cavemen had to dig mammoth meat from their maws, it took Charles Foster of Boston to put a disposable toothpick in the mouths of Americans. In the 1870’s Foster acquired the patent on technology for toothpick making. His factory could manufacture millions of toothpicks each day, but he found no market for his wares, so he went out and made a market, dang gum it.
Foster hired students from Harvard University to have dinner at the best restaurants in town. After the meal they would ask for toothpicks and would make a stink when told the restaurant didn’t have any.
This is how I see the grift happening:
Student: “Garson! We require toothpicks! Fetch us some post haste!”
Waiter: “But sir, we have no toothpicks!”
Student: “No toothpicks! I thought this was an establishment of quality and refinement. We were obviously mistaken. Perhaps we should take our business to Applebee’s! Good day!”
A few days later, Foster would stop into the same establishment selling the hottest item for the most fashionable restaurants…wooden toothpicks! Nice, but this is what tips his plan into ad story material; soon after the sale the same shill students would again dine at the same restaurant and praise them for getting with the times. Smooth man!
Before long, folks began walking around with wooden toothpicks between their lips as a sign that they were rich enough to dine at the fanciest of restaurants. It even got to the point where young men would hang around in the vicinity of the expensive eateries with toothpicks in their mouths to give the appearance of largess, even if they were far too poor to have actually dined there.