Great Moments in Toilet Paper History

It's hard enough for cat lovers to clean a litter box. Would you do that for your spouse … or even yourself?

And yet, in the late 1860s, the Rev. Henry Moule promised to revolutionize bathroom technology with the "Earth Closet." You went in, did your business, and — instead of flushing — a device would dump ash or sand over your waste — much like a cat box.

Maybe the Earth Closet wasn't in vogue all that long, but it's one of the links from early outhouses to modern-day toilets. If you never saw one before, there's a good reason.

"It's hard to find old toilets. People back then didn't save these things, for reasons that are easy to imagine," says Michael Telzrow, curator of the "Privy to the Past" exhibit at the Neville Museum in Green Bay, Wis.

"I don't think the Smithsonian has an Earth Closet," he boasts.

The exhibit, which opens April 27, offers a glimpse inside the commode as it has evolved through the ages, beginning with Roman times, when folk wiped with a brine-soaked sponge that was fastened to a stick and used communally.

Northern Tissue: It's Splinter-Free!

You really don't appreciate the comforts of modern technology until you set foot in the loo. Before toilet paper, colonial Americans typically used corncobs — and later, old newspapers and catalogues. In fact, the reason there's a hole through the Old Farmer's Almanac is because it was designed to hang from an outhouse hook for a quick read-rip-and-wipe.

Even as late as 1935, advancement in bathroom technology was still pretty slow. Advertising for Northern Tissue boasted that its toilet paper was "Splinter-Free!"

Just to show you the importance of a splinter-free wipe, that company, now known as Quilted Northern, is now part of Georgia-Pacific, a leading manufacturer and distributor of tissues and toilet paper.

"The toilet is largely overlooked as a place where technology has been used as a tool to overcome disease and that sort of thing. But advances in toilet sanitation are every bit as important as the development of the computer and automobile," says Telzrow.

"It's allowed people to live a healthy existence in cities."

World's Largest Roll of Toilet Paper: It's a Lot of Sheet

It's truly amazing how far the industry has come. In the early part of the 20th century, the Scott Paper Co. was once so embarrassed that it was manufacturing toilet paper that it wouldn't put its label on the product. Today, the U.S. toilet paper market is worth about $2.4 billion a year, and the United States is recognized as the world's premier manufacturer of high-end goods.

"We can all be grateful for what toilet paper contributes to the American economy," says Kenn Fischburg, CEO of "I guess you could say it caught on."

Northern Quilted, now celebrating its 100th anniversary, underwrote the Neville Museum exhibit with an $87,000 gift. The company plans to further commemorate the event by unveiling the world's largest roll of toilet paper. It stands 5 feet high, 7 feet wide and weighs 2,000 pounds. That's the equivalent of 10,561 rolls or 2,207,000 square sheets of TP — enough to wipe the bottoms of a family of five for 17 years.

To commemorate the grand history of bathroom technology, Fischburg — a second-generation paper goods and cleaning supplies vendor — helped The Wolf Files compile this timeline, featuring great moments in toilet paper history. Great Moments in Toilet Paper History

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