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Great Moments in Toilet Paper History

ByABC News
May 7, 2002, 11:40 AM

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