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  • Writer's pictureJoseph DeLorme

The History of Toilet Paper

Can you imagine living in a time without toilet paper? It’s one of those inventions that you really don’t want to think about because toilet talk is often not acceptable in polite society, but we’d be lost without it. Even individuals that use a bidet rely on toilet paper once in a while, even if it’s only to pat dry. So let’s dive into the history of toilet paper.

Pre-Toilet Paper

Before there was toilet paper, humans needed something to take care of their hygiene. In many instances, it happened to be whatever they had at hand to help. Items such as moss, grass, hay, leaves, and other soft natural materials were used to clean after going to the bathroom. That doesn’t seem too unreasonable, and some people today may be tempted to do the same while on a hike or camping when nature calls, and there’s no toilet paper. However, some items that were used before toilet paper may seem a little wilder: things like coconuts, sponges, seashells, animal furs, stones, corncob, stone, and clay.

Earliest Toilet Paper

One of the earliest forms of toilet paper was a cloth that the ancient Romans used. Mount Vesuvius covered Pompeii and the surrounding areas in layers of ash and volcano debris. As horrible as it was for the people living back then, it does offer us a look at the lives of those that came before us. In the city sewers of Herculaneum, pieces of cloth fabric were found. Using these hand-made clothes would be like using the most expensive and luxurious toilet paper today.

The Chinese were a crucial part of toilet paper’s history. Chinese use of paper as a cleaning product goes back as far as the 6th Century. The imperial family had toilet paper that was perfumed specially made for the family to use back in 1393.

Toilet Paper and the United States

Although the Chinese had toilet paper long before the United States came into existence, trade wasn’t what it is today. In the earliest years, Americans would be creative with what to use in the bathroom. Corncobs were a popular method of getting clean. Magazines and newspapers become popular later on. As more houses had indoor flushing toilets, these materials wouldn’t do any longer, and toilet paper became more popular.

Toilet paper similar to what we use today was starting to be produced in 1890. However, the older toilet paper had one wrinkle that we would be distraught with today: the potential for splinters. It wasn’t until 1935 that toilet paper was able to be made without splinters, thanks to Northern Tissue. Two-ply toilet paper was the brainchild of St. Andrews Paper Mill in Britain in 1942.

The old adage concerning the best thing since sliced bread has nothing on toilet paper. Toilet paper will always be one of the most important inventions that no one really wants to talk about. Our backsides thank all of those that came before us and eventually lead to the creation of a gentle way to handle our hygiene after using the bathroom.

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