There are dozens of items that we utilize each and every day that go unnoticed as playing a vital part of our comfort and well-being. Creature comforts like a refrigerator or kitchen sink, hygiene products like soap and shampoo, technologies like smartphones and digital TV has all become an accepted, and almost expected, part of our day-to-day lives. But one item trumps them all, one that often is a bit embarrassing to discuss, but inevitably is used in the hundreds of thousands of tons per day…toilet paper.
When Did Paper Start Being Used as Toilet Paper?
While paper itself has existed since 100 BC, it took almost 2000 years for it to begin to be used as a hygiene product. Since toilets, and bathrooms, didn’t exist until civilizations like the Greeks and Romans began adding them to structures and homes, most people used whatever was nearby while doing their business outdoors. Archeological teams commonly find items like shells, corncobs, coconut shells and hay around areas determined to be early “outdoor bathrooms.” As civilizations began to advance, the Greeks would utilize clay and stone for their post-toilet cleansing, while the Romans would keep sponges and salt water near their toilets to clean up with.
Paper itself first made its appearance next to the toilet in the mid 1800s. Joseph Gayetty, an entrepreneur from New York City, is credited for being the first to create a product specifically designed to clean up after using the toilet. His product, sheets of manila hemp paper infused with aloe vera, claimed to help prevent hemorrhoids while also presenting customers with an easy and sanitary way to clean their nethers.
Around the same time as Gayetty’s product hit the market, the recent introduction of the printing press made paper products readily available for the masses. One of the first widely circulated catalogs, printed by Sears Roebuck, quickly became the de facto toilet paper of choice for most Americans since it was free, and even featured a loop in the corner to hang the catalog from a nail in an outhouse.
When Did Toilet Paper Start Appearing on a Roll?
In the late 1800s, Clarence and E. Irvin Scott developed a type of toilet paper that could be rolled onto a small cardboard tube, making manufacturing and packaging simpler and quicker for machines and factories to turn out. By selling their product to hotels and drugstores around the United States, the Scott brother’s toilet paper began to gain traction with the nation’s wealthy citizens who wanted an alternative to using printing paper.
Toilet Paper in the 20th Century
By the early 1900s, there were multiple companies creating varieties of toilet paper, and they all faced one significant problem. The 1900s was an era of being prim and proper, and discussing bodily excrement and how to clean it was something that everyone was embarrassed to do, and was taboo in the advertising and retail industries.
In 1928, the Hoberg Paper Company released a new brand of toilet paper called Charmin. The name itself was chosen because of its feminine ties, and the packaging and branding was filled with feminine touches and a beautiful depiction of a woman. The idea behind “feminizing” toilet paper was to relate the softness of the company’s toilet paper with the soft touch of a woman. Remember, this was the 1920s, where this sort of gender generalization was the norm!
The Charmin brand was a hit, and was one of the few companies in the United States to survive the Great Depression. Company lore credits the introduction of an “economy 4-pack” of toilet paper to how they survived the worst economic crisis the United States has ever seen.
In 1950, the Hoberg Paper Company rebranded to become the Charmin Paper Company, and continued to see massive growth during the post World War 2 era, when hundreds and thousands of new homes were being built around the country, all of which featured indoor plumbing and sit-down flushable toilets.
Toilet Paper on a Global Scale
It should come as no surprise that Americans are the world’s leading consumer of toilet paper. On average, every American uses 50 pounds per year…or 100 rolls each! Other first world countries are not very far behind in toilet paper use, but where the real boom is taking place is in developing countries like India and Brazil.
As demographics and disposable incomes continue to grow in these developing nations, more and more “Western” practices, like how the bathroom is used, begin to become a normal part of society. With those societal changes comes more toilet paper. In Brazil, toilet paper revenues in Brazil have nearly doubled in the last decade. In Africa, revenues have increased by ⅓ since 2010.
While the world continues to progress, and technology allows nations to develop quicker than ever, there is one constant that will continue to grow just as rapidly as even the most advanced nation, and that is the need for, and consumption of, toilet paper.