Toilet Paper History

toilet-paper-over.jpgBefore toilet paper came into widespread use in the late 19th and early 20th centuries—yes, that recently!—personal hygiene was typically performed using materials that were a bit less soft and absorbent. Newspapers, catalogs, and similar reading materials were as likely as they are now to appear in bathrooms, but much less likely to leave the room (or outhouse, as the case may be) intact. Farther back in history (or when paper was otherwise unavailable), such items as rags, leaves, and even stones were used. The ancient Romans reportedly used sponges on sticks.Perhaps as far back as the sixth century A.D., paper was sometimes used for sanitary purposes in China—at least among the wealthy. In the late 14th century, toilet paper of a sort was made for the Chinese emperor—in large, 2 foot-by-3 foot (0.6 x 0.9m) sheets. But almost 300 years after the invention of the flush toilet in 1596, there was still no such thing as commercially produced paper designed exclusively as a toilet accessory—and certainly no paper that could safely be flushed.

  • In 1857, Joseph Gayetty produced the first commercially available toilet paper in the U.S. The tissue was moistened with aloe and sold in packages of 500 individual sheets—each one with a watermark bearing Gayetty’s name. It was sold as a medical product, and was not terribly successful.
  • Brothers Edward, Clarence, and Thomas Scott began selling some kind of toilet paper from a push cart in Philadelphia in 1867. (I have been unable to determine what sort of paper this was or where they obtained it, but I assume it was not rolled, perforated paper—they most likely would not have had the means to manufacture it and I could find no record of other companies making it at that time.)
  • In 1879, Edward and Clarence Scott founded the Scott Paper Company (the third brother, Thomas, went into the publishing business instead).  Scott toilet paperwas sold in rolls that were, apparently, unperforated in the early years. In addition, the company did not market their products under the Scott brand initially—not wanting to, ah, soil the family’s good name.
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