Great Moments in Toilet Paper History

ByABC News

April 23, 2002 -- -- 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

500 B.C.-A.D. 500: Roman So-Called Civilization — All public toilets feature a stick with a sponge attached to its end, soaking in a bucket of brine. Citizens use the tool to freshen up.

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

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

1700s: Damn Niblets! — Colonial Americans wipe with corncobs, later switching to old newspapers, catalogues and almanacs.

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 beginning of the 20th century, the Waldorf Hotel in New York becomes a leader in the toilet paper business.

1902: Enter the Green Bay Giant — Northern Paper Mills, the company that later became Quilted Northern, opens, producing Northern Tissue.

1916: Gas Masks Become Sanitary Napkins — Kimberly-Clark begins concentrating on a special wadding paper. With World War I brewing in Europe, this product, Cellucotton, was adapted for use as a filter in gas masks and bandages. Nurses began using it as sanitary pads. Cellucotton was renamed "Cellu-Naps," and then "Kotex."

1920: The Tissue and the Pop-Up Box — Kimberly-Clark introduces the Kleenex tissue. Nine years later, this product is marketed in the patented Pop-Up box. 1928: From Charming to Charmin — Hoberg paper introduces Charmin. The logo — a woman's head from a cameo pin — was designed to appeal to feminine fashions of the day. A female employee called the packaging "charming," and the product's brand name was born.

1932: Wiping Away Depression — Charmin tries to mitigate the pain of the Great Depression by introducing the economy-sized four-roll pack.

1935: Who's Got the Tweezers? — Northern Tissue is hailed as one of the few splinter-free toilet papers on the market.

1942: A Softer World — St. Andrew's Paper Mill in England introduces two-ply toilet paper. 1944: Patriotic Toilet Paper Duty — The United States honors Kimberly-Clark with an "E" Award (for excellence in commercial services) for its heroic effort supplying soldiers fighting in World War II.

1964: Enter Mr. Whipple — He appears for more than 20 years in TV, radio and print advertising. The real George Whipple was the president of the Benton & Bowles advertising agency, which came up with the "Please, don't squeeze the Charmin" ad campaign. He sold the rights to his name to Procter & Gamble for $1. Dick Wilson, the vaudeville veteran who portrayed Mr. Whipple on TV, later recalled his agent calling him about the project. "My agent asked me, 'What do you think of toilet paper?' And I told him, 'I think everybody should use it.'" For his role in making Charmin the No. 1 toilet paper in America, Wilson's salary grew to $300,000 a year, and Procter & Gamble promised him a "lifetime supply" of toilet paper. 1973: The Johnny Carson Toilet Paper Scare — Johnny Carson makes a joke about the United States facing an acute shortage of toilet paper. This prompts viewers to run out to stores and begin hoarding. Carson apologizes the next day for causing the scare and retracts his remark.

1991: Covert TP — The U.S. military uses toilet paper to camouflage its tanks in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. 1995: The Great Toilet Paper Caper — A Philadelphia city employee is charged with stealing $34,000 worth of toilet paper from Veterans Stadium just before an Eagles football game. The accused, Ricardo Jefferson, was fired. City spokesman Tony Radwanski said: "We don't really know how long this was going on. We only looked at a 10-month period from October 1994 to August 1995, but man, he really wiped that stadium clean."

1999: Paperless Toilet — Japanese inventors unveil the paperless toilet. The device washes, rinses and blow-dries the user's bottom with a heating element.

2000: Men Are From Folders, Women Are From Wadders — A Kimberly-Clark marketing survey on bathroom habits finds that women are "wadders" and men are "folders." Women also tend to use much more toilet paper than men.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producerat The Wolf Files ispublished Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice whena new column is published, join the e-maillist.

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