The condom was invented in Egypt. Ancient drawings clearly depict men wearing condoms – sometimes made of material that may have been animal hide. It’s not clear what they were made of — or whether they were used for sex or ceremonial dress.
The oldest known condoms — dated to about 1640 — are found in Dudley Castle near Birmingham, England. They were made of fish and animal intestines. Condoms in those days were used to prevent sexually transmitted diseases rather than for contraception.
Young Giacomo Girolamo Casanova begins his amorous career. He is among the first to use condoms to prevent pregnancy. Said to prefer condoms made from lamb intestine — still the preferred material for natural gut condoms — he also used linen condoms tied off with a ribbon.
Charles Goodyear patents vulcanization of rubber. Soon, rubber condoms are mass produced. Unlike modern condoms — made to be used once and thrown away — early condoms were washed, anointed with petroleum jelly, and put away in special wooden boxes for later reuse. British playwright and essayist George Bernard Shaw called the rubber condom the “greatest invention of the nineteenth century.”
The U.S. contraceptive industry flourishes. In addition to condoms (immediately known as “rubbers”), there’s widespread sale and use of intrauterine devices or IUDs, douching syringes, vaginal sponges, diaphragms and cervical caps (then called “womb veils”), and “male caps” that covered only the tip of the penis.
The U.S. Congress passes the Comstock laws. Written by dry goods merchant and anti-obscenity crusader Anthony Comstock, the law makes all forms of contraception illegal. The contraceptive industry continues to flourish — but the devices are now sold to promote “feminine hygiene.”
Penniless New York City immigrant Julius Schmid gets extra sausage casings from butcher shops and makes them into skin condoms. It becomes a big business by 1890. By the 1930s, his condom empire is making millions. His Ramses and Sheik brands are still popular.