A Brief History of the Toilet Paper

The Chinese have been accredited with the invention of paper as we know today. They used a combination of barks, rags, husks and other waste materials to make a pulp, dry it out in sheets and use it for writing. It naturally follows that it was them, yet again, who first developed the concept of paper to be used for sanitary purposes. As early as 1391, before any modern record of toilet paper in other countries, the Chinese Emperor of the Ming Dynasty is mentioned to have used the toilet paper. However, it was a luxury, granted only to the Royalty. As a result, the consumption was pretty much limited, even though it is the first recorded instance of hygiene related product being mass produced.

Other countries meanwhile were still using primal methods such as husk of corns and similar grains, or skins of fruits to clean up after themselves. This went on as far as up to the 1700’s. Then, in the 17th century, a guy named John Harrington (Yes, he’s the great grandfather of our beloved Lord Commander Snow) invented the system of flushable toilet. So people stopped defecating out in the open, and the chamber pots were done away with. But since the odd leave or twigs were not readily available to wipe off your hard work, people found other ways to make do in the situation. In the United States, with the advent of newspapers people substituted old news for new leaves. There was also the practice of drilling a hole through a Farmers’ Almanac (which was a pretty hefty piece of work) and hanging it in the John for the purpose. The thickness of the book and the quality of the paper made it quite popular among the public.

But, the paper making industry in the United States was yet in its early stage. A shortage of rags, which were used in making the pulp, meant importing them from the United Kingdom, that too at a hefty price. With the paper for printing and writing being as costly as that, it was quite some time before creative minds could think of another direction of its usage. However progress was being made in the field of plumbing and flushing. There were quite some new innovations and technical breakthroughs in the field since Harrington’s initial model. There were developments in the paper industry as well. Instead of drying out sheets of paper, there was a new machine that produced paper in rolls. Many sheets of paper were joined, one after the other to make a roll of paper, instead of stacks. This same model still works, be it in our toilets or the printing press.

The first commercial production of Toilet Paper is credited to Joseph Gayetty, who packaged thin sheets of paper, and marketed them, specifically to be used as Toilet tissues. This was in the year 1857. They had his name printed on them, and were a huge hit. However, why would a grown man want his name touching a million strangers’ asses every morning, is out of my understanding. Anyway, that is where it began, and he was soon followed by the Seth Wheeler Company, situated in New York, who patented the ‘Toilet Paper’ and dispenser in 1883. 1890’s saw the toilet paper being sold in the form of rolls. Another Company, by the name of Andrex started marketing these in the United Kingdom. That’s how it began, slowly at first, but now we have such variety in these- scented, wet wipes, whatever your heart’s desire. What a time to be alive.

  • Updated November 17, 2018
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