10 Everyday Items With Totally Messed Up Histories

06/16/2015 06:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

There are plenty of everyday products with bizarre origin stories, from Viagra's initial development as a treatment for heart disease to Play-Doh's first foray as a wallpaper cleaner. There are others, though, whose genesis came about under much more sordid circumstances.

To clue you in, we dug up 10 seemingly innocuous household items whose beginnings were much darker than you'd imagine. Spoiler: graham crackers will never taste the same.

Credit: Flickr/An Mai

1. Kleenex
Origin: A gas mask filter
Before you were using them to blow your nose and clean up after yourself, these iconic facial tissues were originally developed to function as disposable gas mask filters during World War I. According to Kimberly-Clark's own account of the history, the material used in Kleenex--a malleable and thin cellu-cotton--was found a remarkable effective cotton substitute for dressing both wounds and filtering air coming into gas masks.

2. Listerine
Origin: Powerful antiseptic... AND....
Before it was used to obliterate your stank morning breath, Listerine mouthwash was originally developed as a surgical-grade antiseptic. But it was also marketed as a floor cleaner, and was even used to keep the promiscuous masses of the 19th Century clap-free.

3. Treadmills
Origin: Torture device
Ever been suffering on treadmill at the gym and thought to yourself, "man this machine is straight-up evil?" Well, it turns out you're right. See, the modern-day treadmill is an evolved version of the treadwheel, which was basically an energy-producing human-sized hamster wheel that served as a form of punishment and penal labor during the early Victorian period in Britain.

4. Fertilizer
Origin: Invented by the "father of chemical warfare"
While half the world's food supply comes from crops grown with some sort of ammonia fertilizer Fritz Haber pioneered, his efforts and intelligence were also used for evil. During World War I, the German chemist spent a good deal of time developing and weaponizing poison gas-- specifically chlorine--which led some declaring him a war criminal.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

5. Magnetic tape
Origin: Nazi broadcast technology
While modern technology has sprinted far ahead of this unique recording method, found in everything from reel-to-reel recorders to cassette tapes, it was state-of-the-art back when the Nazis developed it to record and rebroadcast their radio addresses. It wasn't until the war ended that the Allies were able to bring the technology out of Germany and make it commercially viable.

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