Today in 1879 was the birthday of S.S. Adams.

If you don’t know the name, you know the products.

Joy buzzers, sneezing powder, the dribble glass, hundreds of novelties known all over the world, they all started with the S.S. Adams Company.

The namesake of the company was born Soren Sorensen Adams in Denmark and came to the United States at about age two.

He ended up working as a salesman in New Jersey, though his real love was practical jokes.

Eventually he noticed that one of the compounds he sold made people sneeze if they got too close.

So he figured out a way to sell the stuff as a powder in a small container.

He set up shop as the Cachoo Sneezing Powder Company.

It was a hit, but Adams didn’t stop there.

His company became known as the S.S. Adams Company, and his vision was to sell not just sneezing powder, but novelties of all kinds: “anything that is absolutely useless, offensive or prone to cause shock or embarrassment.”

They sold exploding cigars, itching powder, fake ice cubes that looked like they had bugs inside and glasses that dripped on you as you tried to drink.

Adams sold hundreds of novelties, though his favorite was the joy buzzer.

The metal ring which created a vibration that at first seemed like an electric shock became his biggest seller.

One item it’s said he didn’t care for, at least at first: the whoopee cushion.

The Jem Rubber Company wanted Adams to distribute their invention, but he said it was distasteful (which is something coming from a guy who sold fake barf).

Adams eventually reversed course when the whoopee cushion became a hit.

He not only bought Jem’s product he ended up selling a “Razzberry Cushion” of his own.

S.S. Adams and his descendents won millions of fans over the decades producing these novelties.

And while they’re considered mostly harmless joke products today, consider this: in 1946, the Saturday Evening Post reported that Adams products like sneezing powder were disrupting schools, church services, theater performances and political gatherings, and occasionally leading to fights in saloons!

No joke.

Navigation sites like Waze, Mapquest and Google Maps are really handy for getting around in today’s world.

There’s a new website that takes ancient maps of the Roman Empire’s extensive system of roads and turns them into an interactive route planner.

Now you’re set next time you need to find the quickest route to meet with Emperor Augustus.

Remembering the S.S. Adams Company (Stuckeys)

S.S. Adams, the Original Gag Factory (NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday)

If the ancient Romans had Google Maps (Big Think)

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Image via Wikicommons