EAST LANSING, Mich. — The past two years have made many of us want to stock up on sanitizing supplies. John French was ahead of the game.
The production coordinator at Michigan State University's Abrams Planetarium has been collecting moist towelettes since the 1990s, and his collection of wipes is now well into the thousands.
The Moist Towelette Museum, housed in French's office in the planetarium, has wipes from all corners of the world. Texas, Japan, Russia, Germany Kuala Lumpur,and Tahiti are among the dozens of places represented in the collection.
Most of these towelettes were donated to the museum, sometimes by strangers.
"I've not actually been to the places where these moist towelettes have come from," French said. "They've come from all around the world and I've just benefited from having them."
Some of the towelettes in the collection serve a specific purpose, such as denture cleaning, removing tar from shoes or wiping away radioactive contamination. One wipe is specifically for secretaries to clean typewriter ribbon ink and carbon paper.
The oldest wipe? A "Wash Up" towelette from 1983.
The collection began as a joke between French and a former colleague.
“I found out that of all the things on the internet, there wasn't a collection of moist towelettes," French said.
So, he started his collection and the donations quickly began to roll in.
When working at a planetarium in Houston, French decided to display his towelettes near a space exhibit.
“I noticed in that time, a lot more people spent a lot more time looking at the moist towelettes than they ever did at the Mars exhibit," French said. "So I thought, 'Oh yeah, people like moist towelettes.'”
The museum has seen visitors from South Dakota to Saudi Arabia. In the visitors book, alongside a line for guests' signatures and dates of visitation, French included a line for visitors to list what they themselves collect.
"I think almost everybody collects something," French said. "And it's interesting the different things that people tell me that they collect."
Visitation to the museum has declined during the pandemic, but French says it still attracts lots of curious guests.
“It does kind of surprise me that it has as much interest as it does," French said.
One of French's friends even discovered the collection featured in a New Zealand newspaper.
“He's down there in New Zealand, picks up the newspaper, and what's in there? Four strange American museums. Number one is the Moist Towelette Museum," French said.
French said those looking to donate unused moist towelettes to the collection can either send them by mail, or just stop by.