Women have used various absorbent materials to control the flow of menstrual blood since antiquity, but the first commercially available menstrual pads appeared around 1888 in England with a product called Southall's Sanitary Towels. Such towels were meant to be washed and reused.
The first commercially available disposable sanitary pads were Lister's Towels introduced by Johnson and Johnson in 1896. Disposable pads probably originated with nurses using wood pulp bandages to absorb their menstrual flow, particularly on the battlefield. While disposable pads were available for purchase as early as 1896, many purchasers found requesting such items to be embarrassing, and it wasn't uncommon for drugstores to allow women to place money in a box on the counter and take a package of pads without speaking to the clerk.