As faithful readers know, I like to look up anniversaries of events that changed modern life. So imagine my delight when I discovered December 22, 1891 is the date Seth Wheeler received the patent for his toilet paper roll. I’m informing you now because life gets hectic that close to Christmas and you might want to celebrate early.
It appears that the cats playing with this toilet paper roll found a dispenser with the paper going over the roll, confirming received wisdom that threading the paper under the holder creates a tidier appearance and makes it harder for pets to unravel the paper. Advocates of threading the paper over the holder claim it reduces the transfer of germs and makes the end easier to find.
The historian in me engaged, as I delved deeper into toilet paper history. It appears Joseph C. Gayetty invented the first patented toilet paper in 1857. Gayetty’s Medicated Paper sold in flat sheets. It’s generally thought advertising didn’t enter public consciousness until the 1920s, but Gayetty’s ad demonstrates him as a man ahead of his time.
Gayetty marketed his Medicated Paper for the Water Closet as the Greatest Necessity of the Age. “Printing paper, everybody knows, is rank poison to tender portions of the body.” In the long run, “how much cheaper in every respect is it to use a paper made of the purist material and medicated with the greatest care?” Product assurance guaranteed by a water mark on every sheet. Gayetty’s paper was sold until the 1920s.
Wheeler was the first to to patent toilet paper on a roll, but he may not have been the first inventor. Scott Paper Company developed it in 1880 and began selling the product under their own brand in 1896. An advert from 1915 warns consumers about Toilet Paper Sales. The customer sees an announcement of eight or ten rolls of toilet paper for a quarter. “Did you ever ask yourself how much real paper there is in these rolls?” . . . Scott Tissue Toilet Paper has 1000 sheets to the roll for ten cents and is “soft as old linens,” snowy white, and very absorbent.”
Charmin uses animated bears in their popular ads which also demonstrate the ongoing debate about how to put toilet paper in the holder. In the ad from 2011, the paper is threaded under the roll.
In the 2016 ad, it’s over the roll.
The important thing is to find the method that works best for the household. Cats get into the toilet paper no matter which method you choose.
Illustrations from Wikimedia Commons.
Cats with Toilet Paper by Dan4th. Creative Commons Attribution.
Toilet Paper Roll, U.S. Patent Illustration. Public Domain.
The Greatest Necessity of the Age Advertisement, 1859. Public Domain.
Scott Tissue Toilet Paper Advertisement, 1915. Public Domain.
Soft Weave Advertisement from Ladies’ Home Journal, 1948. No Known Copyright Restrictions.
Amanda Kooser. “Why an 1891 Toilet Paper Patent is All Over Facebook.” Cnet. Mar. 18, 2015
Kim LaCapria. “The Great Toilet Paper Orientation Debate.” Snopes.
Brandon Naff. “The Way You Hang a Toilet Paper Roll Secretly Reveals Your Personality.” KKRV. April 7, 2016
Megan Willett. “124-Year-Old Patent Solves the ‘Over versus Under’ Toilet Paper Roll Debate.” Business Insider. Mar. 19, 2015.
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.