I admit that I have a lot of time on my hands, probably time I should spend doing something more productive than surfing the web.  Today though, a thought crossed my mind at a rather idle time at work, while I was in the bathroom.  It appears in austerity measure to save huge dollars the Company elected to go with single ply toilet paper, rather than that over the top, really pricey two ply.  I think I could almost suffer with that, but then to top it all off they go with a “No Name” brand, which feels like it missed a couple of steps in the processing from tree to roll.  So I thought to myself, what on earth did people do Before Toilet Paper? 

This brings me back to the opening sentence of this little post.  Where better to get this type of information than the internet.  So I pointed my mouse arrow thingy at the search bar and away I went.  Its like getting into a space ship, or a time capsule or something neat like that because you can find anything you want from any era.  So I searched for “History of Toilet Paper” why not, everything has a history doesn’t it.  Sure enough I learned some interesting facts. 

Before paper was widely available, a variety of materials were employed. The Romans used an L-shaped stick (like a hockey stick) made of wood or precious metal; at public toilets people used sponges on sticks that were kept in saltwater between uses.  So you think its tough at work now Peter?  For some reason I think of an NHL game with the Stick Boy in the back with a rack of sticks, handing them to each player as needed.  The bathroom valet would be similar, you would walk in and he would nod in acknowledgement and hand you your hockey stick.

You may not want to read this paragraph is you are squeamish, or a vegetarian, but in arid climates, sand, powdered brick, or earth was used. Until the late nineteenth century, Muslims were advised to use three stones to clean up. One favorite tool was a mussel shell, used for centuries. Until the early twentieth century, corn cobs were used.  Well this answers the question about the one ply “feel” I guess they were trying to replicate something for us, what other reason could there be.

In the late fifteenth century, when paper became widely available, it began to replace other traditional materials. Sometimes old correspondence was pressed into service, as were pages from old books, magazines, newspapers, and catalogs.  I can think of several books that would serve the purpose just nicely if there were ever a world-wide paper shortage, always best to have a library you know.

People also used old paper bags, envelopes, and other bits of scrap paper, which were cut into pieces and threaded onto a string that was kept in the privy.  I can hear it now “Hey Dad, we are out of string to tie up the paper pieces”  I wonder what that aisle would look like in the grocery store.

God Bless the Brits though toilet paper is a fairly modern invention, making its debut around 1880 when it was developed by the British Perforated Paper Company. Made of a coarser paper than its modern incarnation, it was sold in boxes of individual squares.  Not sure I like the coarser part of that description, but it had to be better than the old paper bags.

In America, the Scott Paper Company made its Waldorf brand toilet paper in rolls as early as 1890. The first rolls were not perforated, and lavatory dispensers had serrated teeth to cut the paper as needed. It was a nearly “unmentionable” product for years, and consumers were often embarrassed to ask for it by name or even be seen buying it. Timid shoppers simply asked for “Two, please,” and the clerk presumably knew what they wanted. To keep things discreet, toilet paper was packaged and sold in brown paper wrappers. Oh trust Americans to make it a dirty topic, but you can understand when you realize that some of the States don’t allow alcohol sales on Sunday’s either.  It almost reminds me of being a teenager in the late 60’s and having to buy a condom, wow, think of having that embarrassment a couple of times a week.

To sum up the history of the butt saving product, during the 120 years since its introduction, toilet paper has changed little, although it’s now perforated, and may be scented, embossed, or colored. Recently, toilet paper manufacturers increased the number of sheets on a roll, allowing consumers to replace the roll less frequently.

Well there you have it, a brief tour of the history of one of our most reliable products.  I just wish they didn’t mess with it and make it one ply, I have to use twice as much, kind of defeats the purpose doesn’t it?  Well I suppose it could be worse, the hockey stick idea doesn’t sound that good to me, although I am sure the Romans had right and left-handed sticks, don’t you think?