History of Toilet Paper

Throughout the annals of history, humans have gone “to the bathroom” even when “bathroom” meant “over there, behind a rock.”  While the elimination process hasn’t changed much over the years, the immediate aftermath certainly has.  Initially, people just cleaned themselves up with whatever was handy; rocks, sticks, leaves, corncobs or (yeeouch) wood shavings.  The Chinese were the first to use sheets of paper for toilet purposes, dating back to the 6th century AD.  The widespread use of toilet paper, however, was still 1300 years away. 

For many years Americans employed the readily available pages of the popular Sears Catalog. It came free in the mail and even had a handy hole in the corner to make it hang easily on a nail in the outhouse.  It wasn’t until 1857 that Joseph Gayetty began selling “medicated paper” made of hemp with added aloe.  Proud of his invention, Gayetty had his own name printed on every sheet. 

Outshining Gayetty’s product, was the invention of toilet paper on a roll, popularized by two brothers in 1890.  They declined to put their name on any part of it, however, and just sold the product directly to hotels and drugstores.

In 1928, the Hoberg Paper Company of Green Bay, Wisconsin rolled out a much softer addition to the paper game.  According to company lore, someone said the rolls of toilet paper and their elegant, ladylike packaging were “charming” and thus Charmin toilet paper was born. The feminine charm of the packaging helped Americans get over the discomfort of speaking about bodily functions. In the 1930’s an economical 4 roll pack was introduced, which may have helped the company survive the Great Depression. 

In the 1950’s, Hoberg changed their name to the Charmin Paper Company. Charmin changed the “Charmin lady” on the packaging to the “Charmin baby” to symbolize the ultimate in softness. This would be followed by the famous ad campaign of the 60’s and 70’s admonishing women and men around the country with “don’t squeeze the Charmin!” to highlight the paper’s tempting squeezability. Ultimately, the company landed on a campaign called “Call of Nature” featuring an outspoken family of animated bears who are unafraid of talking about “the go” and how to enjoy it.

Toilet paper continues to evolve, but it’s important to look back at the toilet paper dark ages and reflect upon our predecessors, our leaders, inventors, great thinkers and iconic artists and ask “How did they accomplish all that stuff without ever getting to enjoy the go?”