TipTop Products

Tiptop Products and its Health Hazards

Carl Renstrom founded TipTop Products in 1932. After an unsuccessful business arrangement with a man who sold heatless liquid solder at the time, Renstrom reproduced and patented the solder. At this time, lead was the only type of solder being used. Lead solder was prominent because it produced strong bonds with various other metals, was easy to utilize, ability to maintain contact with a solid surface (wettability), and low melting point. Renstrom sold the liquid lead solder in squeezable tubes and manufactured the product in his basement. He went from store-to-store selling his solder (23).

There are significant deleterious health effects from lead solder. While skin contact with lead is harmless, lead dust can be toxic if ingested. There is an increased risk of ingesting lead dust if the worker does not wash their hands before eating or any action that involves contact with their mouth. Exposure to lead solder has both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) health effects. The acute health effects of lead exposure are: abdominal pain, digestive complications, fatigue, headaches, irritability, loss of appetite, memory loss, and pain or tingling in hands or feet. Chronic health effects of lead solder exposure include: reproduction difficulties, digestive problems, memory and concentration issues, muscle and joint pain, depression, irritability, and nausea. Working out of their 1524 Cuming Street location and producing liquid lead solder in squeezable containers, TipTop Products operated in an environment that promoted the exposure and overexposure of lead on its workers and those that occupied the building in the future. With the existence of all of both acute and chronic health effects of lead exposure, this provides insight on the effect of liquid solder production by the TipTop Products company on the level of lead present in Tiptop Apartments today (15, 24).

After his solder proved to be a success, Renstrom took Grace’s (his sister) design of a simple metal hair curler and Carl Renstrom went on to patent a design for a simple and cheap aluminum hair curler, which he christened the metal curler as the Tip Top Easy Curler. Upon obtaining the initial United States patent for the aluminum hair curler, sales began to ramp up. There were four aluminum hair curlers on a card with each card being priced at 10 cents. The consumer response to the new and improved version of his Grace’s simple metal hair curler was astounding (23).

When World War II rolled around, aluminum was at its zenith with regards to its demand and usage to fabricate military arsenal. Renstrom used World War II as an opportunity to re-invent his machinery in a way in which he can make military wire reels, barbed wire throws and land mine crates. Renstrom’s experience working alongside the War Department on military contracts compelled him to run for office as a Douglas County Commissioner, which he was elected in 1944 and held that position through 1948 (23).

Once the war concluded, Renstrom transformed his curler products to plastic and further increased his hair product line. By 1964, Renstrom’s Tiptop Products Company tallied over 24 patents and manufactured over 600 hair products. With the use of plastic in the TipTop hair products came many health hazards that can possibly be seen today. Some health hazards that arise during production with plastic are: direct toxicity, carcinogens (i.e. diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), and endocrine hindrances which leads to various cancers, birth defects, immune system suppression and developmental impediments in young adolescents. Plastic polymers, which are common in products such hair spray contain Polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP). PVP is most harmful when coupled with styling tools. When PVP is heated, it melts and creates toxic fumes that, when inhaled, causes detrimental effects to the lungs. Having knowledge that Renstrom made a myriad of hair products in the 1524 Cuming St. TipTop Products building, this bestows awareness on the environmental history of TipTop Apartments for occupants of the building to evaulate their potential risks (1,5).