Did you know that Listerine shares guarantee a royalty so long as people worry about bad breath? 

According to Bloomberg, bids were being taken last week on a share of royalties backed by Listerine mouthwash sales. These stem from contracts signed 140 years ago by its inventor and still cited in business law classes that require the maker to pay shareholders in perpetuity. No wonder over 100 bids for a single share reached over US$340,000!

While the share up for sale only paid $32,000 last year, it’s a payment that will keep coming as long as Listerine “kills germs that cause bad breath.” In modern terms, that’s like pressing the F5 key – it’s refreshing. 

And Listerine is by far the most popular mouthwash — it had a 37% share of a growing $5.2 billion global market for mouthwashes and dental rinses last year. 

The formula for Listerine was invented by Joseph Lawrence, a St. Louis doctor who originally marketed it as a cure for dandruff and/or a treatment for gonorrhoea. Those original objectives were not met: the unfortunate scalp sufferer’s hair fell out entirely. As for the other affliction – don’t ask!

But the good doctor’s invention proved to be a boon for his daughter Beatrice. While an apple a day kept the doctor away, the same could not be said for her preference of an onion a day which kept everyone away. 

The comely Beatrice discovered, however, that her father’s elixir proved to be the perfect counterbalance to the pungency of an onion diet and, lo and behold, not only was mouthwash created, suitors began arriving in droves. 

But Dr Lawrence’s true genius may have been his inspired choice of his product’s name. He named it after British doctor Joseph Lister, who discovered that disinfectants could reduce post-surgical infections.

Thus, Listerine became forever associated with antiseptic – synonymous with anything astringent, clean or fresh smelling. 

It’s become a word indelibly associated with freshness, almost an involuntary reflex like drooling over a roasting steak or vegetarians salivating over the smell of freshly mowed grass. 

Whether the dour Dr. Lister, who was as humourless as Donald Trump in a pandemic, approved of the use of his name on a soon-to-be-famous mouthwash is less clear. 

Dr Lister was a grim soul who disapproved of mouthwash almost as much as he did meat which was why he was resolutely vegetarian. 

But such was the nature of his unflinching soul that he was vegan not because he liked animals but because he loathed plants. So, most people appreciated the irony of his epitaph when it read Rest in Peas. 

It wasn’t all smooth sailing though. Dr Lawrence had to work at it, tinkering around with his Listerine formula until he got it just so. That was generally affected by the judicious use of a canary: if it keeled over dead, the dose was generally considered too strong.

This story has a decidedly happy ending. The innumerable descendants of the once-comely Beatrice have gone on have had wealth thrust on them thanks to Dr Lawrence and many heroic canaries.  

And, yes, it’s been good news for modern man and the transformation, willy-nilly, of too-many-to-count groomsmen into grooms. 

And it’s been for you as well. Picture for an instant, the lack of a good mouthwash in a crowded lift. 

I mean, it would smell bad on so many levels.