The Toilet Paper Story

Updated on May 26, 2019
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

The Chinese were way ahead of the rest of us; 1,500 years ago they were using toilet paper. But, it wasn’t until the middle of the 19th century that Westerners caught onto this new fad.

The Talmud, the text of Jewish law, advises that “On the Sabbath it is permitted to take along three rounded pebbles into the privy.”

The Romans, well the rich ones, soaked wool in rose water or vinegar. The folks at Charmin tell us that “Initially, people just cleaned themselves up with whatever was handy; rocks, sticks, leaves, corncobs or (yeeouch) wood shavings.” Elsewhere, seashells, broken pottery, and knotted ropes are mentioned – double yeeouch.

So, let’s get to the bottom of this story (Oh dear, and it probably doesn't get any better).


By Any Other Name

What to call it? Toilet paper, bathroom tissue, bog roll, bum wipe?

Toilet paper is location specific without being graphic. Bathroom tissue is nicely vague about usage and could mean dabbing away a bit of errant mascara. Bog roll is a British expression using a slang term for toilet and the brightest among us can figure out the roll reference. Bum wipe gets right to the point but might be a little like Eliza Doolittle yelling “C’mon Dover, move your blooming arse.” “Oh! Where’s the smelling salts. Aunt Agatha needs reviving.”


The Evolution of Toilet Paper

On a daily basis, we should all say a hearty “Thank you” to Joseph Gayetty. In 1857, Mr. Gayetty of New York launched the Western world’s first commercial toilet paper.

The product, called Therapeutic Paper, came in a box of 500 sheets moistened with aloe. The inventor was bold enough to have his name printed on each sheet. However, Therapeutic Paper was a bit of a flop; in modern parlance we might say it went down the crapper, but we have more class than to do such a thing.

The failure of Therapeutic Paper may have been connected to the years that went by before its competitors could start advertising it as “splinter free.” Again, with the yeeouch.


The Scott Paper Company introduced the toilet paper roll in 1879, although it was unperforated. Over to Joe Kissell for the punch line, “the company did not market their products under the Scott brand initially—not wanting to, ah, soil the family’s good name.”

Squeamishness about bodily functions held back the sales. In the days before self-serve stores, people were reluctant to ask for the product by name. Linda Rodriguez McRobbie writes that “By 1930, the German paper company Hakle began using the tag line, ‘Ask for a roll of Hakle and you won’t have to say toilet paper!’ ”

Acceptance came slowly as suppliers battled to introduce improvements. First, there was two-ply then four-ply and quilting. All along there was the search for the Holy Grail – softness combined with what was delicately referred to as “firmness.”


Advertising Toilet Paper

Spare a consoling thought for the advertising agency creative team that learns their hot-shot sales people have landed the bog roll account. How are we going to sell this stuff?

It’s not Vim or Brillo pads so we can’t actually show it being used. The standard solution to this conundrum has been to use surrogates. So, cuddly white kittens and puppies are shown tumbling over piles of unravelling toilet paper.

Another agency used bears. But they had to be de-clawed, their flesh-tearing fangs disguised, and then cutyfied into cartoon fuzzy-wuzzies.

Then, there is Gretchen the runway-model cavorting about in a gown made of toilet paper. One can imagine the conversation with the talent agent, although curiously we only have one side of the interaction:

Gretchen: “I am not going on national television in a dress made of bum wad.”

Gretchen: “How much?”

Gretchen: “I can totally wear that.”

Taylor’s Happy Life Rule

Never sit down without checking there’s enough paper left on the roll.

Soviet Bum Wipes

Toilet paper has come to symbolize the chaos of the Soviet Union’s Communist economy. The commodity was almost always in short supply, which was a mixed blessing because those who used it said it was like 80-grit sandpaper.


The Soviet bog roll shortages gave rise to a Western spy activity called Operation Tamerisk. Soviet agents resorted to tearing pages out of their military documents to clean up, and, as the plumbing system could not handle the discarded paper, it was deposited in a waste bin.

After the janitors had tidied up, Western espionage people would go dumpster diving behind Soviet offices. International security expert Richard J. Aldrich has written the operation yielded “gold dust to the growing army of analysts in London and Washington.”

An Issue with Tissue

Who knew that what we discard in the reading room is contributing to global warming? But, it is. The manufacturing of toilet paper requires wood pulp that leads to the cutting down of 10 million trees a year.

Since 1996, an area the size of Pennsylvania has been logged from Canada’s boreal forest; about a quarter of those trees have been used to make toilet paper. The vast woodlands of Canada absorb huge amounts of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Turning these tracts into toilet paper affects climate change.

Toilet paper on the hoof.
Toilet paper on the hoof. | Source

A 2019 report by the Natural Resources Council and the environmental group says there are alternatives to using virgin wood pulp but “leading toilet paper makers cling to their decades-old formulas that include zero recycled content.”

The Guardian notes that the report says “Americans are particularly to blame for this crisis. They make up just over four percent of the world’s population, yet account for more than 20 percent of global tissue consumption. The average four-person household in the U.S. uses over 100lb of toilet paper a year.”

It seems a return to pottery shards, seashells, or pebbles is unlikely. Or, maybe the bidet will catch on. TUSHY is a company in the bidet business that claims their products will “turn your toilet into a caboose cleaning paradise.”

Bonus Factoids

England’s Henry VIII created the position in his court of Groom of the King’s Close Stool. The job involved assisting the monarch in his daily royal bowel movements and in the subsequent clean up.

Metsa Tissue is a Finnish toilet paper manufacturer. In 2013, it released its product with affirming messages about joy and love printed on each sheet. Unfortunately, some of the quotes were biblical. Fire and brimstone was delivered from Scandinavian pulpits.

How many men does it take to change a toilet roll? Nobody knows because it’s never happened.

Over or under? It’s the crucial debate about how to hang a toilet roll. Science says over. A University of Colorado study says there is a greater chance of food poisoning bacteria being transmitted if toilet paper is pulled from the bottom rather than from the top of the roll. The reason is that with the under pull the hand may brush the wall leaving behind bacteria that the next user can pick up. Also, it’s harder for the cat to unravel the roll if it’s coming off the top.

"I'm just as surprised as you."
"I'm just as surprised as you." | Source


  • “Toilet Paper History – Complete Historical Timeline.” Toilet Paper World, undated.
  • “The Story of Toilet Paper.” Joe Kissell, Interesting Thing of the Day, August 23, 2018.
  • “Toilet Paper History: How America Convinced the World to Wipe.” Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, Mental Floss, November 7, 2009.
  • “History of Toilet Paper.” Charmin, undated.
  • “Cold War Spies Sifted Through Used Soviet Toilet Paper In Search of Clues.” Urvija Banerji, Atlas Obscura, March 17, 2016.
  • “Advisory: New Stand.Earth, NRDC ‘Issue with Tissue’ Report Asks: Why Are We Flushing Ancient Forests down the Toilet?”, February 19, 2019.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      9 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, all, the article is wonderful. It's history, manufacturing, and so on.

    • Larry Slawson profile image

      Larry Slawson 

      9 months ago from North Carolina

      Love this article. Haha. Learned quite a lot. Toilet paper is one of those things you kind of just take for granted each day. I had never really thought about its origins and history until now. Thank you for sharing!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      9 months ago from The Caribbean

      Super interesting! I like one of the other names better than toilet paper and I think I'll begin to use it. Thanks!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      9 months ago from Sunny Florida

      I never considered roller paper as a topic for an article on Hubpages, but this was truly fun to read. Your jokes and play on words made this article so enjoyable to read. Now I know more about toilet paper than I thought possible, and in our home in hangs over.

    • Miebakagh57 profile image

      Miebakagh Fiberesima 

      10 months ago from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA.

      Hi, Rupert, thanks for sharing. I do not know the toilet roll will take such a history. And how seriously too. You are right when you said that whatever is handy is used to clean. People are still doing so nowadays. But the best I can think of is water. The toilet roll or paper no matter how hygienic it is, will never, never clean the ass well. Water will.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      10 months ago from UK

      This is a witty and interesting article. We have a toilet museum not far from where we live.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)