Wednesday, April 13, 2016 - 16:25
Black businessman who convinced the Dutch to brush teeth profiled in book
In the 1920's and 30's Joseph "Menthol" Sylvester taught the Netherlands how to brush their teeth while selling Babajaba Menthol Tootpaste at markets all across the Netherlands. Author Frank Krake's book Menthol, which published today, tells the story of one of the first black businessmen in the Netherlands. Sylvester (1890-1955) fled from the First World War and the economic disaster it caused on his home island of Saint Lucia and eventually ended up in Antwerp. He planned to sell first Menthol pastilles, quickly switched to toothpaste imported from the U.S., there, but it never really caught on. But in the Netherlands it was a hit. Dressed as a dandy, Sylvester traveled through towns and villages in the Netherlands, attracting much attention for his Babajaba Menthol Toothpaste, which he marketed as a natural secret. "He took a boy from Utrecht as test subject, sat him down on a chair and started brushing his teeth with a wooden brush", Krake said to RTV Utrecht. "If the boy's mouth began to foam and bleed, he put salt on it and the boy screamed. This is the result if you do not brush your teeth, so buy my toothpaste, Menthol called. To show how strong his own teeth were, he used his mouth to pick up the chair, boy and all, 30 centimeters off the ground. He said: look what beautiful teeth I have. You can have it too." Joseph Sylvester's life story is not only covered in the book, but also in a musical and a reading, according to RTV Oost.