April 11, 2001 -- 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.
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.
1925: Great Scott! — Scott is recognized as the leading toilet paper company in the world. (Kimberly-Clark acquired it in 1995.)
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.
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 quote.
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."
1995: Bathroom Merger — Kimberly-Clark and Scott Paper join forces. A year later the company has earnings of $1.34 billion, not to mention Cottonelle, the second best-selling toilet paper.
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.
P.S. What toilet paper does Fischburg use? "It's like fine wine," he says. "It depends what mood I'm in."
The Weird News Roundup
Check out that babe in the bikini. It's the Virgin Mary. Los Angeles computer graphics artist Alma Lopez is causing quite a stir at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, N.M. Lopez says Our Lady is styled after the Virgin of Guadalupe. Archbishop Michael Sheehan says Mary is depicted as a "tart" and the picture should be taken down. Museum regents scheduled a public meeting on April 4 to discuss the matter, but 800 people showed up, leaving a crowd of 300 outside chanting "cancel the meeting."
"We have an emergency situation," Toby Lynn Herzlich, one of two professional mediators hired to run the meeting, told Reuters. "People are threatening unsafe activities outside and this is something we cannot allow."
No Pom-Poms for Teacher
All together now, sports fans: Gimme a T! Gimme an A! What do you get? Indicted! Prosecutors in New York's Long Island have charged a former teacher who allegedly posted close-up shots of high school cheerleaders bending over and doing splits on his Web site. Police raided Kevin Dern's home and seized videotapes, computers and disks after several girls recognized pictures of themselves on the Internet. Dern is charged with violating the girls' civil rights. His Web site — cheervideos.com — is now closed and promises a refund to subscribers who had paid $13.95 for access.
Highway to Hell
If you think Route 666 is the road to hell, you've never been to New Jersey. Readers of the Bible's Book of Revelation — not to mention schlock horror films — know that 666 is the mark of Satan. Apparently, the Prince of Darkness has some fans. Local highway officials in Morris County say so many Route 666 signs have been stolen that they are thinking of changing its name. "We put a sign up one day and in a day or two it's gone," says Joseph Stuppiello, a supervisor in the county road department. In Warren County, they've already changed the name to Route 665. And, of course, the devil made them do it.
Buck Wolf is a producer at ABCNEWS.com. The Wolf Files is a weekly feature. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.