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Toilet Paper — Over, Under, or Just Right

Cats and Toilet Paper Roll

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.

Toilet Paper Patent DrawingsThis is a debate of some importance, so you can imagine the excitement when illustrations of Wheeler’s patent drawing became public. Clearly, Wheeler meant the paper to go over the holder.

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's Medicated Paper advertisementGayetty 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.

Scott Tissue Toilet PaperWheeler 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.”

Ladies' Home Journal 1948 advertToilet Paper hasn’t changed much. Each producer claims softness, absorbance, and that clean, fresh feeling.

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.

Toilet Paper History

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.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

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.

2 thoughts on “Toilet Paper — Over, Under, or Just Right

  1. Sandra: great stuff as always, but flush often!

    One argument I have heard for OVER the roll (which seems sensible to me) is that it allows one to see the pattern on the roll–why would they print that just to have it facing the wall? On the other hand (side?), what if you do not like the pattern–or your roll is patternless? Flip a coin? Don’t become a slave or conform to habit? Keep ’em guessing…know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em (Gayetty).

    Thanks again for brightening up this wet, dreary Hilo morning. It’s: NOVEMBER 27, 2017 | NATIONAL CRAFT JERKY DAY | CYBER MONDAY | NATIONAL BAVARIAN CREAM PIE DAY

  2. I hadn’t thought about toilet paper patterns. Good observation. Maybe next year I’ll investigate Bavarian Cream Pie. Thanks for commenting.


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