A Brief History Of Toilet Paper

By | March 16, 2020

TP, bathroom tissue, mummy wraps, bum stuff—whatever you want to call it, toilet paper is a big business. In the 21st century, it's an industry estimated to be worth $30 billion dollars, and there are no signs of that number slipping any time soon. Toilet paper has been around for generations, but in the scheme of things, it hasn't been all that long since people were contending with splinters when they were at their most vulnerable.

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Toilet Paper Dates Back To The Sixth Century CE

Although people had been making and using paper for recreation and business since the second century BCE, the first documented use of paper for personal cleanup comes from China 700-some years later, when Yan Zhitui wrote about the etiquette concerning what kinds of paper to use. The renowned artist stressed that when he used paper that had been written on, he made sure that it didn't feature "quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics." They might have been using scraps, but they had their standards.

After visiting China in 851 CE, an Arabic traveler wrote of the country's usage of toiletries "[The Chinese] do not wash themselves with water when they have done their necessities; but they only wipe themselves with paper." He sounds unpleasantly shocked, but in modern times, he would be the weird one.

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Toilet Paper Has Always Been Big Business

As soon as people figured out that they could use paper for their dirty duties rather than dry leaves, pinecones, or rocks—all things that humans have used through the years—the manufacturing of toilet paper has only increased. In the 14th century, 10 million packages of 1,000 to 10,000 sheets of toilet paper were manufactured every year in the Zhejiang province. In 1393, the Hongwu Emperor's family alone tore through 15,000 sheets of special toilet paper that was scented and extra-soft. It probably wasn't Charmin quality, but this does suggest that people have always wanted a softer, thicker tissue to brush their bottoms.