True West Historical Society

Official Site of True West Magazine, Since 1953

Toilet Paper History
by Linda Rodriguez Since the dawn of time, people have found nifty ways to clean up after the bathroom act. The most common solution was simply to grab what was at hand: coconuts, shells, snow, moss, hay, leaves, grass, corncobs, sheep’s wool—and, later, thanks to the printing press—newspapers, magazines, and pages of books. The ancient Greeks used clay and stone. The Romans, sponges and salt water. But the idea of a commercial product designed solely to wipe one’s bum? That started about 150 years ago, right here in the U.S.A. In less than a century, Uncle Sam’s marketing genius turned something disposable into something indispensable.
How Toilet Paper Got on a Roll. The first products designed specifically to wipe one’s nethers were aloe-infused sheets of manila hemp dispensed from Kleenex-like boxes. They were invented in 1857 by a New York entrepreneur named Joseph Gayetty, who claimed his sheets prevented hemorrhoids. Gayetty was so proud of his therapeutic bathroom paper that he had his name printed on each sheet. But his success was limited. Americans soon grew accustomed to wiping with the Sears Roebuck catalog, and they saw no need to spend money on something that came in the mail for free.

Toilet paper took its next leap forward in 1890, when two brothers named Clarence and E. Irvin Scott popularized the concept of toilet paper on a roll. The Scotts’ brand became more successful than Gayetty’s medicated wipes, in part because they built a steady trade selling toilet paper to hotels and drugstores. But it was still an uphill battle to get the public to openly buy the product, largely because Americans remained embarrassed by bodily functions. In fact, the Scott brothers were so ashamed of the nature of their work that they didn’t take proper credit for their innovation until 1902.
“No one wanted to ask for it by name,” says Dave Praeger, author of Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product. “It was so taboo that you couldn’t even talk about the product.” By 1930, the German paper company Hakle began using the tag line, “Ask for a roll of Hakle and you won’t have to say toilet paper!”
As time passed, toilet tissues slowly became an American staple. But widespread acceptance of the product didn’t officially occur until a new technology demanded it. At the end of the 19th century, more and more homes were being built with sit-down flush toilets tied to indoor plumbing systems. And because people required a product that could be flushed away with minimal damage to the pipes, corncobs and moss no longer cut it. In no time, toilet paper ads boasted that the product was recommended by both doctors and plumbers.
The Strength of Going SoftIn the early 1900s, toilet paper was still being marketed as a medicinal item. But in 1928, the Hoberg Paper Company tried a different tack. On the advice of its ad men, the company introduced a brand called Charmin and fitted the product with a feminine logo that depicted a beautiful woman. The genius of the campaign was that by evincing softness and femininity, the company could avoid talking about toilet paper’s actual purpose. Charmin was enormously successful, and the tactic helped the brand survive the Great Depression. (It also helped that, in 1932, Charmin began marketing economy-size packs of four rolls.) Decades later, the dainty ladies were replaced with babies and bear cubs—advertising vehicles that still stock the aisles today.

Views: 6130

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

Squating with spurs on double ouch. Reb your a better man then I am. I was shown how to use one piece of tissue as long as you don't slam your middle finger between two bricks. Leaves a bad taste.
Real men used cactus!

Remember in Broken Trail, when Tom is in town buying supplies and asks rather embarrassedly for a box of "therapeutic papers?"

Then when he gets back to camp Print grabs the box and disappears into the brush?

I've forgotten who wrote book and/or screenplay, but it's clear the writer was familiar with Mr. Gayetty's product. ;-)
Someone asked about lined paper and while I found absolutely no reference to lined paper, I did find reference to toilet paper being used in china, as far back as the mid 800s.. no, not 1800s. But then, that was China and not the US... but, one would think that with all the Chinese immigrants that came to the US during the 1800's, at least one of them would have brought the knowledge of toilet paper with them.

Talk abut your ancient Chinese secrets.... LOL
Well the Chinese probably didn't want to share their knowledge with the "heathens".
Red Foxx said when he was a kid, he used a red corn cob, then used a white one to see if he needed another red one.
I can remember cob boxes on the wall of the privy at a farm my folks used to visit when I was very young, during & just after WW II. There were 2 boxes. One held red cobs, the other held white cobs. You used a red cob, then used a white one to see if you needed another red one. There was also a mail-order catalog in the privy. As we lived in town & had indoor plumbing, I had no idea at the time--age abt 5 to maybe 7--what the purpose of the boxes or the catalog was until my father explained it to me. I used the catalog pages. I think the men & boys of the farm family used cobs, while the women & girls used the catalog.

Catalogs, during & after WW II, were nearly all printed on pulp paper much like newsprint, w/very few stiff, colored pages. It's only been in the last 40 years or so that it's been possible to print in color on newsprint. The 'society' sections of newspapers used to be printed by 'rotogravure' process, which was a sepia tone, but I don't recall seeing color on newsprint until the '60s.


© 2015   Created by True West.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service