It's amazing how often we get some variation of the questions, "When was toilet paper invented?", "Who invented toilet paper?", and "What did people use before toilet paper was invented?" Here are a few of the highlights in the evolution of toilet paper that we've compiled from various sources. Some links to more comprehensive articles follow.
- What did people use before toilet paper? Well, just use your imagination: grass, leaves, fur, mussell shells, corncobs, stinging nettles... okay, maybe not that last, at least not more than once. The ancient Greeks used stones and pieces of clay; ancient Romans used sponges on the ends of sticks, kept in jugs filled with salty water. Mideasterners commonly used the left hand, which is supposedly still considered unclean in the Arabian region.
- "Official" toilet paper - that is, paper which was produced specifically for the purpose - dates back at least to the late 14th Century, when Chinese emperors ordered it in 2-foot x 3-foot sheets.
- Corncobs and pages torn from newspapers and magazines were commonly used in the early American West. The Sears catalogue was well-known in this context, and even produced such humorous spinoffs as the "Rears and Sorebutt" catalogue. The Farmer's Almanac had a hole in it so it could be hung on a hook and the pages torn off easily.
- Joseph C. Gayetty of New York started producing the first packaged toilet paper in the U.S. in 1857. It consisted of pre-moistened flat sheets medicated with aloe and was named "Gayetty's Medicated Paper". Gayetty's name was printed on every sheet.
- Rolled and perforated toilet paper as we're familiar with today was invented around 1880. Various sources attribute it to the
Albany Perforated Wrapping (A.P.W.) Paper Company in 1877, and to the Scott Paper company in 1879 or 1890. On a side note, the Scott Company was too embarrassed to put their name on their product, as the concept of toilet paper was a sensitive subject at the time, so they customized it for their customers... hence the Waldorf Hotel became a big name in toilet paper.
Here's an 1886 Albany Perforated Wrapping (A.P.W.) Paper Company ad for perforated, medicated, rolled toilet paper.
- In 1935, Northern Tissue advertised "splinter-free" toilet paper. Yep, you read that right; early paper production techniques sometimes left splinters embedded in the paper. And you thought you had it tough!
- In 1942, St. Andrew's Paper Mill in Great Britain introduced two-ply toilet paper
- Amnerica experienced its first toilet paper shortage in 1973.
THE HISTORY OF TOILET PAPER:
Obviously, toilet paper hasn't been around forever. We can be pretty sure that those living before the late 19th Century weren't able to drop by their local quickie mart mega stores to pick up a case of Charmin triple-ply, or Cottonelle flushable moist wipes. Rather, the innovation of the roll of toilet paper is a very modern product and convenience, in which today, has arguably become a household commodity.
So then, how did we go from nature's fruitful leaves to the multiple choices that we are bombarded with every time we enter the tissue section at the grocery store today?
Evidence seems to suggest that original material used in place of toilet paper ranged anywhere from leaves and sticks, to cobs of corn, or linen.
It is believed that although the earliest form of toilet paper on a roll wasn't introduced until 1880, people made do with many various items that stemmed from their environments.
For example, those living in the Northern parts of the world –in particularly, the Eskimos- used tundra moss when available in the summer months, and handfuls of snow during the balance of the year. Those living in coastal areas or tropical settings used mussel shells or old coconut shells, those living in the colonial times of America, when farming consisted of 75% of the U.S. practicing workforce used cobs of corn, or hung paper products in the form of mail order catalogs (Like that of Sears Roebucks, etc.). In ancient Rome, the popular item was a sponge attached to the end of a stick immersed in salt water. If this were the case today, don't you think it's possible that we might take the coined phrase, "wrong end of the stick" a little more seriously?
Even more inconceivable, many societies in the Eastern parts of the world saw it socially correct to use their left hand. Some theorists believe that this is why most cultures use their right hands when meeting new people. This previous form of hygiene is still transgressed in those cultures today, as they find it rude and socially incorrect to shake the left hand of another.
TOILET PAPER IN PERSPECTIVE:
Regardless of what was used, or how gross our associations of toilet paper and the bathroom are, the product itself has made life easier for everyone and has made finding things to clean ourselves up a thing of the past.
Today there are over 5,000 different companies producing bathroom tissue around the world trying to make our lives more convenient, clean and efficient. In a study done back in 1997, it was estimated that 71.48 frugal people contribute to the waste of one roll of 1,000 sheet single ply toilet paper everyday.
With a little over 6 billion humans living on earth, that calls for the daily production of 83,048,116 rolls per day with no days off and no vacations, 30.6 billion rolls per year and 2.7 rolls per second. Strangely enough, that's 80% greater than our daily consumption or use of salt, 63% greater than our average use of milk, and 84 billion more people served annually than McDonald's fast food restaurants. Yet, still we often times remain oblivious to toilet paper and take advantage of the convenience it provides for us.
The average sheet of toilet paper weighs in at a little over .22 grams and 4.0625 inches per square reaching approximately338.5 feet per roll and 5.3 million miles of toilet paper per day.
Furthermore, Americans skip to the loo an average of 6 times per day, adding up to as much as 47 minutes in a single 24 hour time period. Women spend more time with the fluffy white stuff than men, or approximately 32 months in a lifetime versus 25 months for men.
However, women on average also tend to live longer than men, and object most often to men leaving the seat up.
Each time we reach for the "cotton-savior", an average tear of 5.9 sheets is ripped from the roll. 44% of people wipe from front to back, and 60% look at the paper having just wiped, 42% fold, 33% crumple, 8% do both fold and crumple, 6% wrap it around their hands and at least 50% of people have at one time or another wiped with leaves, or something foreign to toilet paper (8% hands, 1% money).
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE WONDERFUL WHITE STUFF:
Although toilet paper carries an amazing historical past, and its significance to our lives frequents more times daily than the toothbrush, hair spray, shower, or dinner table, we too often forget about the importance of toilet paper. Whether it is due to the bad wrap that comes with its association with the bathroom and what goes on there, or just the simple fact that we have never had to do without it, this multiple purpose paper provides for us, makes things more convenient for us, and ultimately helps us look, feel and be clean.
Toilet paper is also very versatile. Outside of its obvious use, many people find that it makes a great substitute for that all too common problem of an empty Kleenex box. Others find that it is perfect for Halloween costumes, like mummy's, or zombies, while others use it to decorate certain peoples' houses during the middle of the night. Whatever the case may be, toilet paper is always there for us and always providing for us.
Some people like to poke fun at it, like Seinfeld, or MTV's Beavis and Butthead, while others like to waste it, or "eat it". You all know what I am talking about, the type of person that consumes half of the roll per trip to the bathroom, because of one bad experience that caused them to be petrified of ever getting their hands dirty.
While some others wouldn't know the difference between the various brands of toilet paper, nor care for that matter…even if you were to replace the transparent, paper-thin toilet paper that UST uses with that of the softest, most expensive and soothing brand.
Speaking of which, just where are those tuition dollars of ours going? For the expense of one class, you would think that UST administration could work something out to provide a little more comfort than that of the paper found in our notebooks we take notes on during class. It seems as though for most people, we don't really recognize the convenience of toilet paper until one day when we have to relieve ourselves and we are left stranded, as the empty hook stares back at us with laughter and revenge.
So, how do we improvise in these situations, how do we go about handling this dilemma?
Well, it's safe to say that in today's world, there are a lot more options than a seashell, or an ear of corn, but nothing truly compares to that of toilet paper. Since we have already established the importance and history of toilet paper –our often-overlooked friend- we are only left with one problem: What type of toilet paper do we buy?
For those of you who purchase your own rolls of toilet paper, you probably understand the abundant selection that is offered, but for those of you who don't, let me explain...
It's not quite as hard as in earlier times when picking the right leaves was important for preventing those unwanted rashes or problems, but the next time you visit the grocery store, take a trip down the toilet paper isle and gaze upon the wonderful world of white that has gradually come about over the last 100 years. Choosing between: Charmin, Charmin Ultra, Charmin double, Charmin Triple, Charmin unscented/scented, Best Yet, Quilted Northern, Cottonelle, Angel Soft, Soft'n Gentle, Green Forest, Scott, or even Brawni and all of their own double, triple, pillow soft, and smelly or non-smelly choices, can really become a mind-boggling event.
Wooden toilet paper from the Nara period
) in Japan
. The modern rolls in the background are for size comparison
Records of human usage of toilet paper first appeared in China, during the 14th century
The classic 16th century satirical novel Gargantua and Pantagruel by François Rabelais contains references to various toilet paper alternatives. For example, in the 13th chapter of the First Book, titled "How Grandgousier realized Gargantua's marvelous intelligence, by his invention of an Arse-wipe," the giant Gargantua, while still a child, tries dozens of different methods for wiping his bottom, including paper, but unfortunately he finds it "leaves some chips on his ballocks". Finally he discovers the best method:
But to conclude, I say and maintain that there is no arse-wiper like a well-downed goose, if you hold her neck between your legs. You must take my word for it, you really must. You get a miraculous sensation in your arse-hole, both from the softness of the down and from the temperate heat of the goose herself; and this is easily communicated to the bum-gut and the rest of the intestines, from which it reaches the heart and the brain.
The first factory-made paper marketed exclusively for toilet use was produced by Joseph Gayetty in the United States in 1857. Gayetty's name was printed on every sheet.
Before this invention, wealthy people used wool, lace or hemp for their ablutions, while less wealthy people used their hand when defecating into rivers, or cleaned themselves with various materials such as rags, wood shavings, leaves, grass, hay, stone,
sand, moss, water, snow, maize husks, fruit skins, or seashells, and cobb of the corn depending upon the country and weather conditions or social customs. In Ancient Rome, a sponge on a stick was commonly used, and, after usage, placed back in a bucket of saltwater.
In some parts of the world, the use of
newspaper, or telephone directory pages, was common. Old Farmer's Almanac was sold with a hole punched in the corner so it could be hung on a nail in an outhouse. The widely-distributed Sears catalogue was also a popular choice until it began to be printed on glossy paper (at which point, some people wrote to the company to complain). In Hervé Bazin's book, "Viper in the Fist ", a Catholic family uses pages of the Catholic newspaper, La Croix (after tearing off the cross of Calvary). In modern flush toilets, using newspaper as toilet paper is liable to cause blockages.
In monarchical Russia, a subordinate stamped the toilet paper with imperial arms for the use of the
Tsar. In the court of Henry VIII of England, the Groom of the Stool was given the job of cleaning the royal posterior with his hand. The Groom of the Stool was both a highly respected and coveted position. For security reasons, only a highly trusted courtier would be chosen and it was coveted because of the influence he might have with the king, daily having the opportunity to be alone with His Majesty.
Using water to clean oneself, in lieu of toilet paper, is common in India and Muslim countries, where people use their left hand to clean themselves and their right hand for eating or greeting (In parts of Africa, though, the converse is true, and a right-handed handshake could be considered rude). The use of water in Muslim countries is due in part to Muslim sharia which encourages washing after defecation. The lack of availability of paper in the Mideast and North Africa during the early period of Islamic history probably promoted this regime out of necessity. Toilet paper is not as rare today in these households, but in many countries, a hose with a water sprayer (called a "health faucet") or a pail of water is found instead.
Some people will just compromise and use toilet paper dipped in water to clean themselves. There have been attempts to market wet swipes as toilet paper, but the market was not big enough.