From corncobs to Charmin: The history of toilet paper

June 29, 2011

From the beginning of time, man has had bowel movements and the desire to clean has always accompanied such an action. For those of us growing up in the 21st century, we never knew a time when toilet paper was not available. However, it was not the case centuries ago when toilet paper was unheard of. Let’s roll back to the days of old when grass, leaves, fur, mussel shells, and corncobs were the choices one had to clean the bum.

I cannot imagine life where I would have to use grass or a rabbit pelt to do my unmentionable cleansing, or rubbing a corncob where no corncob should ever be. Scraping myself with a shell? You can’t be serious?! Uhmmmm….OUCH!!!!! This idea has spurred me to investigate the history of toilet paper and how did this common everyday item come to be. What I uncovered has given me a new appreciation for my plush 2-ply roll of quilted wonder. Who would have thought that this was once a luxury to be used on the most delicate of tush? So enjoy some fun facts that I found out about our TP. You may acquire a new appreciation for this little thing in life:

In the time of ancient Greece, stones and pieces of clay were used as cleansing tools in the bathroom ritual. Well, the idea of using a stone makes me tighten my butt cheeks—-I bet you all are doing the same (am I right?? Yikes!)

The Romans used sponges at the end of sticks they kept in jugs of salty water. Ok, well this is progress…yayy for the Romans!

Early Middle-Easterners commonly used their left hand for cleaning. But in all truth, Muslim travelers found using anything besides water to perform bathroom cleansing to be an unclean practice. To this day, in the Muslim world, common use of the Muslim shower in part of the cleansing process is considered acceptable and normal and much more sanitary than the toilet paper of the West.

“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. Only royal butt was allowed such a luxury! It was a King’s Pleasure. (eye roll)

In the American West corncobs and the pages of the Sears & Roebuck Catalog would often be found in the outhouse or supplied in the wagon for use on the trail. The catalog began to be referred to as the “Rears & Sorebutt” for obvious reasons. Okay, that little play on words cracked me up.

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 or Theraputic Paper”. Gayetty’s name was printed on every sheet. It was sold in packages of 500 sheets for a whopping 50 cents!!

1872: Kimberly Meets Clark — Charles Benjamin Clark, a 28-year-old Civil War veteran, recruits John A. Kimberly to join him in building a paper mill in Green Bay, Wisconsin. When I found this fact I was surprisingly excited…You see, I am originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin. Yes, born and raised! I was delightfully happy to find my home state was part of this part of monumental history. Not sure if I would get on a loud speaker and announce this but in the IBD world that I live in, this is epic…I compare it to striking gold. It’s that big.

1890: Scott Paper introduces toilet paper on a roll. But the paper goods company is somewhat embarrassed to be associated with such an “unmentionable” thing and refuses to put its name on the product. They shed their shame pretty quick because in 1925 Scott Paper was recognized as the leading toilet paper company in the world.

1928: Hoberg paper introduces Charmin. The product logo was a woman’s head from a cameo pin which was designed to appeal to feminine fashions of the day. A female employee called the packaging “Charming,” and the product’s brand name was born. (later owned by Proctor and Gamble)

1935: Northern Tissue advertised “splinter-free” toilet paper. The earlier paper still had shards of wood in it. What a way to find out there are splinters in toilet paper…sandpaper comes to mind and neither one is an appealing choice for wiping my booty.

1942: St. Andrew’s Paper Mill in England introduces two-ply toilet paper. I thank my lucky stars for you St. Andrew’s Paper Mill…many a bum are forever grateful–mine included.

1964: Mr. Whipple and the “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” ad campaign made Charmin the number one toilet paper in America. Dick Wilson, the gentlemen who played Mr. Whipple received a salary of $300,000 and a lifetime supply of toilet paper from P&G for his efforts in this campaign.

Scented, decorated and colored toilet paper became all the rage in the 1970s. Matching the color of paper to the bathroom interior was the decorating craze. The neighbor’s lime green bathroom had lime green TP so my bubble gum pink bathroom better have pink TP too!!!

1995: Kimberly-Clark and Scott Paper join forces. A year later the company has earnings of $1.34 billion, not to mention Cottonelle, the second best-selling toilet paper. Okay, now that’s A LOT of sheet.. woops, I mean sheets..of toilet paper.

2000: A Kimberly-Clark marketing survey on bathroom habits finds that women are “wadders” and men are “folders.” Women also tend to use much more toilet paper than men. Now you tell me who is monitoring women vs. men on this…come on, really?? Guys are you really folders????? Come on, confess, I bet there a few wadders out there in the male population–am I right??! Who the heck cares people? We have better things to do with our time!

2007: Singer Sheryl Crow received an enormous amount of criticism for her proposed limitation of three squares of toilet paper in a bathroom sitting as an eco-activist suggestion to help save our planet. Yeah, that got shot down real fast.

Today, one tree produces about 100 pounds (45 kg) of toilet paper and about 83 million rolls are produced per day. We wipe out more than 27,000 trees a year. The average American uses 57 sheets of toilet paper a day and more than 20,805 sheets a year which is equivalent to 50lbs (23kgs) of paper. Unless you are someone with IBD, then we multiply these figures to infinity. Consider “if every household in the U.S. replaced just one roll of 500 sheet bathroom tissues with 100% recycled ones, we could save 423,900 trees.” As much as we use toilet paper, maybe we could consider “going green” in this one way and do our part to pitch in to save the planet. It’s a small change with a huge result. Honestly, those of us with IBD keep toilet paper manufacturers rolling in the________–you can fill in the blank (wink).

(Thanks to ABC Weird News Articles and Nobody’s Perfect website and the history of toilet paper for these fun facts!)

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