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A Brief History of Toilet Paper

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 9, 2023 3:01 am

A Brief History of Toilet Paper

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 9, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, how ironic it is that we’ve recently seen how a product that is disposable to be the product that is most indispensable. Here’s the History Guy with the story of toilet paper.

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What up, it's dramas from the Life as a Gringo podcast.

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Learn more about their clean standards and shop clean at Sephora Beauty at This is our American Stories, and we tell stories about everything here on this show. And our next story comes to us from a man who's simply known as the History Guy.

His videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of people of all ages on YouTube. The History Guy is also heard here at our American Stories. Here's the History Guy with the story of toilet paper. For much of history in many societies, wiping was done with things that were commonly available and disposable.

Grass, leaves, moss, straw, even snow. And while in some ways it seems a puerile discussion, actually it tells us something about culture. For example, ancient Greeks used bits of pottery to scrape themselves clean, and there's evidence that they sometimes used ostraca. Ostraca were pieces of pottery that had a name inscribed on them, and it was part of a voting process on whether a person was so bad that they should be kicked out of a community, or ostracized. And so if a Greek was using an ostraca for toilet purposes, in essence they were wiping their bottom with their enemy's name, and reusing ostraca in that purpose tells us something about the ancient Greek sense of humor, as well as the extent to which they carried a grudge. The Romans used a tool called a xylospongium, which was essentially a bit of a sponge on a stick. Wealthy Romans might have their own personal xylospongium, but for the most part they were communally used, based on latrines which might accommodate 10 to 20 patrons at a time. The sponge would be rinsed in a mixture of water, salt and vinegar.

Sponges would have been breeding grounds for bacteria, and some historians suggest they served to spread infectious disease. And the items used for this purpose certainly depended upon wealth and social class, with one startling example being the position of groom of the stool, which served the English monarchs from at least the 15th century all the way up to the 20th century. The purpose of the position was to have a servant who was responsible for helping the king while he was doing his business, and the first known person to have the position then called yeoman of the stool was one William Grimsby in 1455. It's not really clear if the person was directly responsible for wiping the king's back side, but one of their responsibilities was to make sure that there was blanket, cotton or linen to wipe the nether end.

While the position would seem to be one of the less savory, in fact it became a highly prized position. The groom of the stool, referring to the king's close stool, which was black velvet infringed with silk with two pewter basins and four broad yards of tawny cloth, was one of a few attendants who shared true private time and able to speak intimately with the king. Although not a member of the privy council, the groom was often more privy to the king's private thoughts than the king's closest advisors. In fact the groom of the stool would often have so much access to the king's private thoughts that other courtiers were afraid of them for the secrets they held. Over time the position expanded to include control of the affairs of the king's inner rooms, including making sure the king was well dressed. The position included perks like being given the king's old clothes and furnishings. People would petition the groom to advocate on their behalf so that he could use his private time with the king to help someone gain a prized position. The position gained such broad responsibilities and prestige that it was often held by persons of high nobility.

The position continued through the Hanoverian kings but was in abeyance under Victoria and finally eliminated by her son Edward VII in 1901. Not surprisingly, the first culture to use paper for their bathroom needs was the Chinese, where paper was invented perhaps as early as the 8th century BC. In general most people would have used leftover scraps of paper but paper specifically for use in the toilet was being mass produced in China as early as the 14th century, although that might have been largely reserved to the wealthy and much of it used by the Emperor's court. Paper didn't make it to Europe until the 11th century, the process was done by hand, pressing fibers on a screen mold. But Johann Gutenberg's invention of the movable type printing press around 1440 caused a printing revolution in Europe and greatly increased demand for paper and paper making became an industry. While people were likely using paper scraps in the bathroom in Europe as soon as paper reached the continent, in practice paper was expensive and would hardly have been used for such purpose.

There were however exceptions. 16th century English churchman John Baille mourned that books dispersed from the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII were being purchased by nobles to rub their booties. Still paper was rare enough in the 18th century that it was not the most common tool for the job. In colonial America, despite the availability of printed materials, corn cobs were most commonly used for bathroom duty. It wasn't until the end of the 18th century, the first patent was in France in 1799, that paper making machines using continuous rollers were invented. The new process was far cheaper and faster and printing and paper products proliferated. By the early part of the 19th century people in Europe and America were most commonly using scrap paper in their bathrooms. Using a bit of newspaper or catalog makes sense. The paper was essentially free and offered reading material for that private time as well.

The hole that is traditionally drilled in the corner of the old farmer's almanac was reportedly to allow the book to be hung by a hook in the outhouse. Joseph Gagetti is generally credited with producing the first commercially marketed toilet paper in 1857. Gagetti's paper was called therapeutic paper and was sold in single sheets at the cost of a thousand sheets for a dollar. His paper was claimed to have medical benefits especially as treatment for hemorrhoids. Ads at the time suggested that ink papers were toxic when used on sensitive parts. Oddly, Gagetti's papers were each watermarked.

JC Gagetti, New York. Gagetti's product was one of the few sold at the time and continued to be sold into the 20th century but the product had limited success. It was a prudish age and Americans were embarrassed to buy a product meant for their behinds and many could not afford to or see the value in paying for paper when so much of it, for example the Sears and Roebuck catalog, was free. Developments such as patenting processes to sell paper on a roll with perforated sheets still struggled commercially because in Victorian times the use of the paper was, well, unmentionable.

But another new technology was about to change that. In 1829 the Tremont House Hotel in Boston became the first hotel in America to use indoor plumbing. As cities developed municipal water systems solely technology for the water closet improved. Early in the 19th century American manufacturers would be behind those of Britain and most equipment for water closets was imported but by the end of the century American manufacturers were producing better products and more and more upscale homes featured indoor water closets. New Yorkers Clarence and Edward Scott founded Scott Paper in 1879 in Philadelphia. They didn't make paper nor did they sell directly to consumers, instead they bought paper in bulk and marketed rolls of perforated toilet paper through third parties such as hotels and drugstores. That avoided the sensitivity of the subject and the paper became seen as a special amenity of fancy hotels that featured indoor water closets. It was a healthy and hygienic product sold at drugstores. Their marketing system worked and they eventually packaged their paper for more than 2000 brands.

But as more and more homes were being equipped with indoor bathrooms newspapers and catalogs seemed less appropriate and would clog the pipes. At the same time people wanted to buy brands that they'd seen at upscale hotels. In 1902 the Scott company purchased the trademark to their most popular third-party seller, Waldorf Bathroom Tissue and began marketing it to consumers directly under the Scott brand. For the first time the company started manufacturing its own paper and the product was successful although still marketed as a health product whose packaging did not mention the product's unmentionable function.

The company quickly became the world's largest manufacturer of the product. As indoor plumbing became more common in the United States and Europe the product slowly became indispensable but there were developments in both marketing and manufacturing. In 1928 the brand Charmin, a play on the word charming, began packaging the product using feminine looking designs, appealing to homemakers and creating an image of softness and femininity.

The shift once again helped to remove stigma from marketing it. As late as 1935 the quilted northern brand advertised that their paper was splinter free, which may have been more of a marketing strategy than a different paper process, but emphasized that the product was about comfort as well as hygiene. Later things like multi-ply tissue and scented brands broadened and differentiated the market further.

Still it took a long time for the unmentionable to become mentionable. It wasn't until the 1970s that television networks in the U.S. allowed advertising under the name toilet paper rather than the less descriptive name bathroom tissue. Today toilet paper is big business, more than 7 billion rolls are sold in the United States annually, although for some 70% of the world toilet paper is still not the primary way that they deal with their bathroom business. It's become such a part of culture in America that a character in a Charmin ad campaign called Mr. Whipple, a store manager who extorted customers to please don't squeeze the Charmin, ran for nearly 60 years. A 1978 TV Guide survey found that Mr. Whipple was the third most recognized man in America behind former president Richard Nixon and evangelist Billy Graham, and if that's true it means that in 1978 Mr. Whipple was more widely recognized in America than then president Jimmy Carter. I can't explain why people are panicked buying toilet paper today, I'll leave current events up to other people, but it does seem ironic that we're rushing out to buy toilet paper when just a hundred years ago Americans couldn't even figure out why they needed the product when there was so much free paper available. But one of the most common solutions is no longer available to us.

According to the Sears archive, due to changes in retailing trends, Sears stopped producing its general catalog in 1993. And you've been listening to the History Guy and you can find all of his work on YouTube. Just put in the History Guy and you'll find his YouTube channel. And a special thanks to him for allowing us to to share his storytelling with us and we love telling stories about history.

But again these innovations, well they make life better for us and free enterprise does it and and inventors do it. And who would have known that such a story well would be so interesting. And again go to the History Guy at his YouTube channel. And thanks to Greg Hengler for as always bringing some of the best History Guy storytelling.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-09 04:06:56 / 2023-02-09 04:13:03 / 6

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