Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 25, 2013
toilet paper

Toilet paper

July 25, 1871: Patent #117,355 is granted to Seth Wheeler of Albany, New York. This patent allowed for perforations. Today some products are made without this wonderful inventive process, but special dispensers are then used. By February 13, 1883 another patent was granted to Wheeler to have the perforated product wrapped around a central tube. He made and patented brackets to hold the tubes. The burning question remains: is it possible for men to use these? Over 100 years later we still wonder if men can change a roll of toilet paper.

The first mention of toilet paper was in China in 589 and in 851, Arab-Muslims were so impressed with the Chinese item, they confirmed its use in writing. By 1300, Zhejiang province was producing 10 million packages of paper with 1,000 to 10,000 sheets in each. Sheets measuring 2 x 3 feet were produced in 1393 – 270,000 of them – for use by the royal court. Elsewhere wool, lace, and hemp were used by the wealthy while the poor were stuck using rags, wood shavings, leaves, grass, hay, stone, sand, moss, water, snow, seashells, corncobs, or one’s own hand. In ancient Rome, a sponge on a stick was used then replaced in a bucket of saltwater for the next person.

By 1877, Wheeler’s Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Co. was selling rolls of TP in drug stores. It was free of “all deleterious substances” in order to prevent the formation of hemorrhoids. If that didn’t work, he sold paper “heavily charged with ointment” to help cure hemorrhoids. The term “toilet paper” was first used in the New York Times in 1888. Plumbing improved and flush toilets (and bidets in Europe) became ever more popular.

Northern Tissue advertised itself as “splinter-free” in 1935. In 1942 two-ply tissue came on the scene along with soft and hard paper. By the 1990s several brands were produced containing aloe. Some interesting facts: It is said that the Pentagon uses 666 roles of paper per day. The best way to buy the product is by the case and the normal roll will last 5 days in the most used bathroom of the house. According to Charmin, we use on average 8.6 sheets per trip or 57 sheets per day or 20,805 sheets per year. And it is all splinter free.

“He who uses paper on his filthy bum, will always find his ballocks lined with scum.” – François Rabelais

“France is a place where the money falls apart in your hands but you can’t tear the toilet paper.” – Billy Wilder

“My dad always told me, yesterday’s news is today’s toilet paper.” – Syneca Puryear

“I have realizations, like that life is bigger than us. People forget that, but I’m always aware of it. Like when I’m in the bathroom looking at my toilet paper, I’m like ‘Wow! That’s toilet paper?’ I don’t know if we appreciate how much we have.” – unknown

This article first appeared at in 2009. Editor’s update: Joseph Gayetty is given credit for bringing commercially successful toilet paper to the US. He marketed his paper first on December 8, 1857 and it originally sold for fifty cents per pack of 500 sheets each bearing a watermark of his name. This early product contained aloe and was marketed as an anti-hemorrhoid medical product. It was licensed to others and sold into the 1920s. Moist toilet paper was first introduced in the UK by Andrex in the 1990s and came to the US in 2001 when Kimberly-Clark brought the product westward. Kimberly-Clark is the manufacturer of both Scott products and Cottonelle. There are 26 billion rolls of toilet paper sold per annum in the US alone. That accounts for $2.4 billion worth of paper being flushed away.

Also on this day: Oh Joy! Louise – In 1978, Louise Joy Brown is born.
Free Press – In 1925, TASS is established.
SS Andrea Doria – In 1956, the ship was struck out at sea.