Do you ever think about toilet paper? Serious question. OK, maybe not serious, but it is a product you probably use daily. Where did it come from? What is its history?
These questions occurred to this history enthusiast for a moment this morning. The state of the product is excellent and efficient these days but I remember less pleasant versions of toilet paper in my youth. I wonder what is was like in my parents’ youth. What was used further back, say in the Civil War era? Back even more, what did the signers of the Declaration of Independence in the 1700s wipe with? Columbus? The first Pope?
Being the curious person that I am, I did some research. The Chinese came up with the first manufactured ‘paper’ used for this purpose in the 14th century. It came in 2 foot by 3 foot sheets. Wow. Leaves, stones, sand, snow and the left hand were often used before that. Yuck. In the early American West, they used old newspapers, catalog pages and corncobs. Ouch.
Packaged toilet paper started in the 1850s and rolled toilet paper came about in the 1890s. In 1935 something advertised as ‘splinter-free’ toilet paper hit the market. Don’t believe me? Here are two of my sources: Number One and Number Two.
There is a shit load of information about this ubiquitous product we usually take for granted. Think about that next time you sort through the dizzying array of toilet paper products in your local grocery store or Sam’s Club.