Weird News: The Wolf Files

You really have to appreciate the little things in life. Consider this: The average American uses 57 sheets of toilet paper a day and more than 20,805 sheets a year. That's a lot of sheet.

You really don't appreciate toilet paper until you don't have it. Then you think about the alternatives. Perhaps it's a commentary on American journalism that just a little more than 100 years ago, today's newspaper was tomorrow's toilet paper.

And in a good part of the world, TP is still a luxury.

But America is still the world's leader in toilet paper. We're the biggest producer, the biggest consumer. And while foreigners might laugh at our cars and shoddy consumer goods, most of the world agrees we're world-class when it comes to wiping.

The U.S. toilet paper market is worth about $2.4 billion a year, and the leading manufacturers — Kimberly-Clark and Procter & Gamble — are recognized worldwide, powering our exports beyond those of Japan and China — who still trail us in TP production.

And now the history of this very American product is at your fingertips, thanks to the Toilet Paper Encyclopedia on the ToiletPaperWorld.com Web site.

The Scott Paper Co. was once so embarrassed that it was manufacturing toilet paper that it wouldn't put its label on the product. That was about 100 years ago. "Maybe they thought toilet paper was just a fad," says Kenn Fischburg, CEO of ToiletPaperWorld.com. "I guess you could say it caught on."

Fischburg — a second-generation paper goods and cleaning supplies vendor — is trying to make a go of it on the Internet, promising retail customers wholesale prices.

It's more than just toilet paper he's selling. And it all comes with a story.

Early American settlers used everything from leaves to corncobs to wipe their bottoms, he says. French royalty wiped with lace. The Vikings used discarded wool. And when in ancient Rome, you did as the Romans did — with a sponge.

It's no wonder that when the Scott company put paper on a roll in 1890, the world changed. Here then, courtesy of Fischburg's encyclopedia, are some of the great moments in toilet paper history.

Toilet Paper Timeline

1391: The King's Pleasure — Chinese emperors begin ordering toilet paper in sheets measuring 2 feet by 3 feet.

1596: The Royal Flush — Sir John Harington, a godson of Queen Elizabeth I, invents the first flushing toilet (a distinction often attributed to plumber Thomas Crapper).

1857: Every Sheet Bears My Name — New York entrepreneur Joseph C. Gayetty manufactures the first packaged pre-moistened sheets of bathroom tissue — called "therapeutic paper" — in packs of 500 for 50 cents. Gayetty is so proud of his innovation that he had his name imprinted on each sheet.

1861-1904: The Gifts of Thomas Crapper — British plumber Thomas Crapper revolutionizes the toilet with a series of plumbing-related patents.

1872: Kimberly Meets Clark — Charles Benjamin Clark, a 28-year-old Civil War veteran, recruits John A. Kimberly to join him in building a paper mill in Wisconsin.

1890: On a Roll — Scott Paper introduces toilet paper on a roll. But the paper goods company is somewhat embarrassed to be associated with such an "unmentionable" thing and refuses to put its name on the product. Instead, the toilet paper bears the name of intermediaries. As a result, at the turn of the century, the Waldorf Hotel in New York becomes a leader in the toilet paper business.

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