From Corn Cobs to Toilet Paper: How TP Became a Household Staple
Most people don't give toilet paper a second thought. It's just something that's always there, like running water and electricity. But believe it or not, toilet paper is a relatively new invention, and its history is fascinating. In this blog post, we'll take a look at the origins of toilet paper and how it became such an essential part of daily life in the United States.
The first recorded use of toilet paper was in China in 618 AD. At that time, the Chinese used strips of cloth or anything else that was soft and disposable (sound familiar?). In 1391, the Chinese Emperor prescribed the use of toilet paper for his entire court.
Toilet paper didn't make its way to Europe until the late 1400s, and even then it was used more for hygiene purposes than for anything else. It wasn't until the late 1700s that people in Europe began using toilet paper for "sanitary" reasons.
Before the modern convenience of toilet paper, people used a variety of materials to wipes themselves clean after using the restroom. This depended greatly on region, personal preference, and wealth. Rich people often used hemp, lace, or wool while poorer people used more readily available materials such as leaves, grass, snow, or even their own hand. In some cultures, water was used for cleaning after defecating while in others, sand or dirt was used. The 16th century French writer Francois Rabelais even recommended using "the neck of a goose, that is well downed". Regardless of the material used, it is clear that people have been finding ways to effectively clean themselves since long before toilet paper was invented.
Wiping items have come a long way since the Ancient Roman’s used sponges on a stick that would sit in salt water waiting for the next person. In America, corn cobs were once a popular wiping item before Sears and Roebuck's Farmers Almanac and other catalogs became popular. The Farmers Almanac even came with a hole in it so it could be easily hung in bathrooms for just this purpose… reading and wiping material in one! Now there are many different types of wiping items to choose from depending on your needs. For example, there are flushable wipes, biodegradable wipes, and even reusable wipes. With so many options available, it's easy to find the perfect wiping item for your lifestyle.
In 1857, Joseph Gayetty introduced the first commercially available toilet paper in the United States. His product consisted of flat sheets of pressed hemp that were sold individually wrapped in packages of 500 sheets each.
It wasn't until 1871 that roll form toilet paper was invented by Seth Wheeler, who patented his invention and marketing it under the brand name "Angel Soft." While Gayetty's sheets were intended for use by one person only, Wheeler's roll form toilet paper could be used by multiple people without being contaminated.
In 1867, the Scott brothers--Edward, Clarence, and Thomas--decided to enter the toilet paper business. Until then, they had been selling products from a push cart. Their original toilet paper was much cheaper than Gayetty's because it wasn't coated with aloe or moistened. It was just rolls of somewhat soft paper (often with splinters). Even so, the Scotts did quite well. In fact, their toilet paper became so popular that it is still being produced today. Who would have thought that such a humble product could have such a long and successful history?
Throughout much of human history, the act of wiping after using the bathroom has been a painful and often messy affair. Splinters from rough sheets of paper or cloth were not uncommon, and the lack of moisture meant that it was often difficult to get a thorough clean. This all changed in the early 20th century, when companies began to market toilet paper as a “splinter free” option. The use of softer, more pliable paper made the whole process much more comfortable, and the addition of moisture helped to improve hygiene. As a result, wiping became a much more pleasant experience, and today toilet paper is an essential part of most people’s daily routine.
Who would have thought that such a mundane household staple could have such an interesting history? The next time you reach for a roll of TP, take a moment to think about how far this humble product has come—and give thanks to Joseph Gayetty and Seth Wheeler for their contributions to civilization!
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