Where did toilet paper come from? Who invented it? We rundown and explain the history of butt wiping from early humans to the invention of the most valuable item of modern time.
Let’s talk about the history of the hottest topic, the thing that has fundamentally changed the way that we live today.
Progress comes at a cost and as human beings evolved to walk on two legs, they developed more pronounced butt cheeks and lost the ability to not have to wipe like the rest of the four legged animal kingdom.
Early humans cleaned with their non-eating hand and basically whatever they could find. Water, rags, rocks, wood-shavings, plants, fruit skins, corncobs, and even seashells.
While the ancient Greeks used broken pieces of clay pots, the Romans used a sponge soaked on a stick soaked in vinegar called a Xbadongiam? Xpongian? Xylospongium – which was shared with the whole community.
Now, this wouldn’t be an invention history if I didn’t mention the Chinese, who used paper with the expressed purpose to wipe all the way back into the 500s. Now, we know this because it surprised Middle Eastern visitors who were still using the water and hand method. By the 14th century, China was mass producing paper for the expressed purpose of wiping.
Yet news of this innovation didn’t spread to Europe, where they continued to rough it. Yet upper class people could afford fabric, like Henry The 8th, who preferred linen.
Thanks to Gutenberg and his press, by the 1800’s, the written word spread through the world and with it information and unseen changes… including something NEW to wipe with, paper. Junkmail proved especially useful for this purpose, and nothing more than the massive Sears catalog – which could provide you something to read and wipe with for months. In England, some still use the term Bomf for junkmail, which is short for bumfodder.
In 1857, an American named Joseph Gayetty, started mass producing a softer paper aimed at preventing hemorrhoids, which is not surprising considering what people had been wiping with for millennia. He was so proud of his invention, he printed his name on every sheet (which sounds like another New York Business Man…).
Toilet paper took its next leap forward in 1890, when two brothers named Clarence and E. Irvin Scott invented the idea of putting toilet paper on a roll. The Scotts’ brand became slightly more successful than Gayetty’s medicated wipes, because they came up with the strategy of selling directly to hotels and drugstores.
But both these companies weren’t exactly run-away hits, because It was so hard to market the product to up-tight puritanical Americans who had a hard time even thinking about what toilet paper could be used for let alone going into a store and asking another human being to buy it.
People were so embarrassed to talk about what toilet paper was used for that many of them continued to use the Sears Catalog in shame for decades. So many people that in the 1920’s, when the department store switched to a glossy less absorbent kind of paper, they received a flood of complaints.
But in 1928, the Hoberg paper company finally cracked it. On the advice of their ad men, instead of a releasing a product called Hoberg Paper they released a brand called Charmin which had a feminine logo depicting a beautiful woman.. Now people just had to go to a store and ask for “Charmin.”
Hey do you have any Charmin?
Think for a moment, in the commercials, have you ever SEEN the Charmin beers USE the product? No. Because If a bear poops in the woods, no one wants to see that…
Since then, Toilet paper has remained relatively unchanged (minus a few plys or two and these new mega rolls) and most of the western world still uses it. Meanwhile in Asia, aka The Future, they’ve moved on to more elaborate systems, which are pretty much using water to clean like our ancestors all over again.