Did a nursing student named Lupe Hernandez invent the hand sanitizer?
Many of us may have heard the Lupe Hernandez hand sanitizer legend. The legend goes that, in 1966, a nursing student named Lupe Hernandez from Bakersfield, California, discovered that alcohol could be delivered in a gel form. Recognising the commercial potential of her idea, she called an inventions hotline she had heard about on television and went about registering a patent.
The most common source cited is an article in The Guardian published in 2012. The story also gained a lot of currency because the story refers to Lupe Hernandez as a woman. Naturally, many concluded that the now now-ubiquitous hand sanitizer gel was invented by a Latina woman.
But subsequent attempts to verify the story or identify Hernandez have proven unsuccessful.
The first to investigate the story was the The Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. You can read details of their investigation here. To sum up their findings:
- There does not seem to be any patent issued in the name of Lupe Hernandez (or several variations of the name).
- Patents for hand sanitizers from roughly the same period refer to apparatuses into which one would place one’s hands for sanitizing.
- Patent for a gel-type hand sanitizer was only issued much later in 1990. So the patent part of the story might be mistaken.
- A search for Lupe Hernandez across city directories and other databases did not lead to any conclusion - and even the claim about Hernandez’ gender could not be confirmed.
- A curator with the Kern County Museum, which is located in Bakersfield, CA, also wrote in to The Lemelson Center mentioning that they have not found any corroborating evidence that he/she existed - despite efforts to reach out to Bakersfield College, sifting through yearbooks and newspapers.
Attempts by The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times have also proven fruitless. Despite the lack of verifiable details, the story has been published as fact repeatedly, including in nursing textbooks. Many sources also accompany the story with a picture.
A photograph of Lupe Hernandez has been circulating online with the story of a Latina who supposedly invented hand sanitizer in Bakersfield.
To read a more detailed account of the history and invention of the hand sanitizer, read our post here.