A Brief History Of Toilet Paper

Everything has a history, including mundane, practical things like toilet paper. Have you ever speculated as to how this wonder wiper came about or pondered what people used before it existed? Let us enlighten you!

What is toilet paper?

a toiletToilet paper is sheets of soft paper on a roll that people use to wipe themselves after going to the bathroom. Sometimes several sheets are fused together to make the paper softer and more absorbent. Perforations every few inches allow the user to tear off as much or as little as needed.

How did the idea of toilet paper even begin?

The Chinese were groundbreakers, using TP as far back as the 2nd century A.D. According to The Toilet Paper Encyclopedia, a court official “mixed mulberry bark, hemp and rags with water, mashed it into a pulp, pressed out the liquid, and hung the thin mat to dry in the sun.”

Somehow, though, it took a lot longer to catch on in the rest of the world. And to this day, in some parts of the world, people don’t use toilet paper at all but wash with water instead. This is usually because there is no plumbing available where they live, and/or there’s no place to dispose of the toilet paper.

What did people use before the idea of toilet paper came up?

Poor people used straw, grass, leaves, or whatever they could find while the wealthy used fabric or fleece. In the Middle Ages, people sometimes used pages torn from books. This became a standard practice in the frontier days when most homesteads featured a Sears catalog in the outhouse. Newspapers and the Farmer’s Almanac were also popular sources of TP for the pioneers.
Here are some other materials people have used over time that will make you glad that the good stuff was invented:

  • Sand
  • Moss
  • Seaweed
  • Animal Fur
  • Wood Shavings
  • Plant Husks
  • Corn Cobs
  • Rags

Modern Toilet Paper

a toilet signTwo things came together to make the invention and use of modern toilet paper widespread: modern plumbing was invented and paper mills were built. This took care of the need to dispose of used toilet paper and the ability to produce enough of it for the masses to be able to afford it.

Toilets used to be referred to as ‘water closets’ because they were basically tanks of water with a hole in the lid. A nobleman in the court of Queen Elizabeth I developed a way to empty, or flush, the water compartment. It may be a coincidence, but his first name was John.

According to Wikipedia, paper is “produced by pressing together the moist fibers of cellulose pulp derived from wood, rags or grasses.” After the thin sheets of paper pulp are dried, voilà! You have paper. The construction of the first U.S. paper mill in the late 17th century made it possible to mass produce all kinds of paper, including toilet paper.

Recreational Use of Toilet Paper

We’ll leave you with an offbeat use that people have found for toilet paper, called ‘TP-ing.’ This is when rolls of toilet paper are thrown over large objects over and over again, causing the paper to unroll in streamers that decorate a person’s front yard. This peculiar pastime is said to have been devised by the American adolescent.

Illustration of TP-ing