Toilet paper, in case you’re wondering, was in use in China as early as the fourteenth century and it was made in 2' x 3' sheets. Everywhere else, and in China before then, people made use of what their environment offered. Leaves, mussel shells, corncobs were among the more common options. The Romans (what have they ever done for us!) used a sponge attached to the end of a stick and dipped in salt water. And yes, as you may have heard, in certain cultures the left hand was employed in the task of scatological hygiene, and in these cultures the left hand retains a certain stigma to this day.http://thefrailestthing.com/2012/07/25/toilet-paper-a-history/
Until the late-nineteenth century, Americans opted for discarded reading material. It’s not clear if this is why Americans still today often take reading material into the bathroom, or if the practice of reading on the toilet yielded a eureka moment subsequently. In any case, magazines, newspapers, and almanacs were all precursors to the toilet paper as we know it today. It has been claimed that the Sears and Roebuck catalog was also known as the ”Rears and Sorebutt” catalog. The Farmer’s Almanac even came with a hole punched in it so that it could be hung and the pages torn off with ease.
Toilet paper in its present form first appeared in 1857 thanks to Joseph Gayetty. It was thoughtfully moistened with aloe. In 1879, the Scott Paper Company was founded by brothers Edward and Clarence Scott. They sold toilet paper in an unperforated roll. By 1885, perforated rolls were being sold by Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company.
In 1935, Northern Tissue advertised its toilet paper to be “splinter-free.” Apparently, early production techniques managed to embed splinters in the paper. Three cheers for innovation! And finally, in 1942, two-ply toilet paper was introduced in St. Andrew’s Paper Mill in the UK. An odd development considering wartime austerity and rationing. Speaking of rationing, the Virtual Toilet Paper Museum (you’re learning all sorts of things in this post) reports that the first toilet paper shortage in the US took place in 1973. Presumably, it was overshadowed by the oil embargo.
The ancient Romans were sophisticated in surprising ways. Take going to the bathroom, for example. In first century Rome, there were over one hundred public latrines, many of them with marble seats, scenes from Greek mythology on the walls, running water and ancient Roman toilet paper provided.http://www.wondersandmarvels.com/2009/08/what-the-romans-used-for-toilet-paper.html
But what DID they use for toilet paper? Well, you could use a leaf, a handful of moss or your left hand! But what most Romans used was something called a spongia, a sea-sponge on a long stick. The stick was long because of the design of Roman toilets. Public facilities had a long marble bench with holes on top – for the obvious thing – and holes at the front: for the sponge-sticks. There were no doors or dividing walls. You sat right next to your friend and did what you had to do.
Most Romans wore tunics (a garment like a long tee-shirt) and probably nothing underneath. So you could just hike it up in back and sit on the cool marble seat, leaving the front of the tunic to cover your knees and your modesty. You would sit there, chatting with your friends, and when you finished your ‘task’ you would rinse the sponge in the channel of running water at your feet and – without standing up or revealing anything – you would push the spongia through the hole at the front, give your bottom a wipe, rinse off the spongia… and leave it in a basin for the next person to use!
Regardless of what was used, or how gross our associations of toilet paper and the bathroom are, the product itself has made life easier for everyone and has made finding things to clean ourselves up a thing of the past. Today there are over 5,000 different companies producing bathroom tissue around the world trying to make our lives more convenient, clean and efficient. In a study done back in 1997, it was estimated that 71.48 frugal people contribute to the waste of one roll of 1,000 sheet single ply toilet paper everyday.http://komar.cs.stthomas.edu/qm425/01s/Tollefsrud3.htm
With a little over 6 billion humans living on earth, that calls for the daily production of 83,048,116 rolls per day with no days off and no vacations, 30.6 billion rolls per year and 2.7 rolls per second. Strangely enough, that’s 80% greater than our daily consumption or use of salt, 63% greater than our average use of milk, and 84 billion more people served annually than McDonald’s fast food restaurants. Yet, still we often times remain oblivious to toilet paper and take advantage of the convenience it provides for us.