Friday, April 24, 2015

Toilet Paper

Yes, toilet paper. Of all the things that have changed over the years, the basic functions of the body have not. Although I’m not a big T.V. watching person, an episode of How It’s Made the other night caught my attention. The subject was toilet paper, and it was rather interesting. (Here's an 1886 advertisemen.)

Documentation shows people in China using paper to wipe with after using the necessities, and that during the 14th century (the Ming Dynasty) over 720,000 sheets of specific perfumed paper for such uses were manufactured for use by the imperial court. Elsewhere in the world, wealthy people used wool, lace, or other such fabrics, while those not as well-off used about everything—from rags to grass and leaves, stones, sticks, corncobs and husks, moss, river rocks, etc. Some items were washed to be used again, or placed in a pail of vinegar stationed near the defecating area. Even today, there are parts of the world where alternatives to the toilet paper we know in the U.S. are used. 

In 1857 Joseph Gayette introduced what he called medicated paper for the water-closet. It was sold in small packages of flat sheets, and ‘medicated’ with aloe. (His success was short lived due to the popularity and distribution of the Sears Roebuck catalog. Many saw no need to spend money on something they received for free.) 

Popularity grew again when Seth Wheeler obtained the earliest U.S. patents on ‘toilet’ paper and accompanying dispensers in 1883. Others soon followed. The Scott Company, who became a major producer of toilet paper was too embarrassed to put their name on a product of such a sensitive subject, and therefore named it for the companies they produced it for—The Waldorf Hotel in New York became a big name in toilet paper due to purchasing large amounts for their customers. The Scott Brothers didn’t officially take credit for producing the ‘product’ until 1903. It was still a ‘taboo’ subject, and few asked for it by name, however, the increasing number of homes with ‘indoor’ plumbing initiated the need for something that could be flushed without damaging pipes. Plumbers, as well as doctors, then started ‘prescribing’ the use of commercially made paper-products. 

Just as most paper is produced, wood was used to create toilet paper and the processes at the time often left splinters in the rolls. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that Northern created and advertised ‘splinter free’ toilet paper, and became a top-selling brand. 

The creation and wide-spread use of ‘paper’ in ‘water-closets’ led to the term toilet as in the plumbing fixture we know it as. Originally a French term, toilet meant the act of washing, dressing, and preparing oneself.” The term evolved into a name of a room for such activities, and eventually into the fixture we know it as today. 

One final note: Who remembers this guy and his famous, “Don’t squeeze the Charmin,” line? (Dick Wilson, AKA George Whipple, was in over 500 Charmin commercials, and died at the age of 91 in 2007.)


  1. You should have titled your post "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Toilet Paper But Were Afraid to Ask!"
    But I'm glad I didn't have to ask. In fact, I never gave a thought to wanting to know the history of toilet paper. But now I see the topic is very interesting and this information should make us all thank our lucky stars that we can buy toilet paper without splinters. Yikes. That must have been a real jolt, especially to...women...don't you think?
    The first I remember is the Sears and Roebuck Catalog. Yep. That far back. If I had to search my memory about any toilet paper in my childhood, I could not. But I do remember during my teens, our mother admonishing us girls to use toilet paper sparingly...but she did that also with shampoo, toothpaste, butter, and Dippity-Doo.
    Great piece, Lauri..thanks for it.

  2. Dippity-Doo! I haven't thought of that for years!!! A smearing of that and a Bobbie-pin gave the perfect little curl in front of the ears. Thanks for that, Celia, and your suggestion would have been a great title! When my son clicked on that episode of How It's Made, I thought really??? But then got caught up in it. They showed pictures of old toilet paper, and yes, the splinters could easily be seen. It was said, some 'servants' were given the job of pulling the slivers out with tweezers before placing the paper out to be used. :)

  3. Quite an unusual post, Lauri. I'm not even going to ask what inspired it. I read the list of things used by the not-so-rich to wipe and I saw rocks and stones. Okay, I'm thinking I might not want to apply such an abrasive to a rather delicate area--and I am absolutely certain I would not want to reuse the stone even if it was soaked in vinegar. Eeww! You would have to put your hand into the disgusting bucket of vinegar with all that "residue" in it. Yucksville. Maybe it's just my nurse's mind, but what about horrible diseases like cholera? Oh Lordy. I would be a big fan of the Sears catalogue.
    I believe this blog tops the unique blog list, Lauri. LOL

  4. We had an elderly lady at Church when I was young that we all adored. However, I still giggle when she used to ask us if we had looked at the "shears and rawbutt" catalog to make our Christmas list yet. She passed away many, many years ago. I am sure she would love it to know we still think of her.

  5. Great post, Lauri! There have been some times in my life when a mullein leaf has come in handy! ;) We always called them Indian butt wipes.

  6. I remember those Charmin commercials. I never knew the actor's name until now. I had no idea China had paper toilet paper so long ago. Amazing post.


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