A Brief History Of Toilet Paper
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.
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.
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.
Mass Production Of Toilet Paper Began In The 19th Century
While people have been using toilet paper for hundreds of years, Jospeh Gayetty is the guy who figured out how to make it commercially available. Initially, he marketed toilet paper in 1857 as a medical product, but it didn’t take off for some reason. It might have had something to do with the fact that Gayetty's product was flat sheets with his name printed on it, which doesn't really feel like good branding. This initial version of mass-produced toilet paper was in circulation until 1920, but by then, Gayetty throne was usurped by Seth Wheeler. In 1891, this newcomer patented perforated toilet paper on a roll as well as a dispenser to hold it. Wheeler even went so far as to address the "over or under" debate in the schematics he sent to the patent company.
A Thorn In One's ... Not Side
Paper comes from trees, trees are made of wood, and small pieces of wood hurt when they stick in your skin. These unfortunate facts meant that the biggest problem facing early adopters of toilet paper were the splinters. The manufacturing of toilet paper was a process that took a long time to perfect, so until the 1930s, wipers ran the risk of getting splinters in one of the worst places imaginable.
In 1935, the Northern Tissue Company finally began advertising a softer, "splinter-free" brand of tissue. This breakthrough was topped in 1942 by England's St. Andrew's Paper Mill when they rolled out their 2-ply paper, and since the mid-20th century, the softness wars have only gained traction.
Bidets Use Less Water Than Toilet Paper
Bidets are somewhat of a joke in the United States, but in the rest of the world, they're seen as a less barbaric method to get clean after going to the bathroom. Europeans and the Japanese are most likely to use bidets, but they can be found all over the world thanks to their simplicity and efficiency. Even though bidets use water to do their job, they still use less water than it takes to mass-produce rolls of toilet paper.
In order to make the 36.5 million rolls of toilet paper that are required by Americans every year, manufacturing companies use 473,587,500,000 gallons of water, 253,000 tons of chlorine, and 17.3 terawatts of electricity to make sure the shelves are stocked. That's more than 700,000 (highly toxic) Olympic swimming pools.
Toilet Paper Is Made To Order
It turns out then when toilet paper manufacturers are making those 36.5 million rolls of toilet paper annually, they're not just shoving them in a bunker somewhere; they're shipping out to order. According to Dan Clarahan, president of United Converting, his paper company and those like it don't have the space to stock millions of excess rolls. He explained to the New York Times:
There is not some big underground warehouse like in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where there is all this toilet paper sitting around in case it is needed.
That totally makes sense, but it would be pretty cool to see.
Americans Use More Toilet Paper Than Anyone Else
The United States isn’t the only country that uses toilet paper, but we use the most of it. A 2019 study revealed that Americans use nearly three rolls of toilet paper per person each week. Make all the jokes you want, but the deforestation of the Canadian woodlands is no laughing matter. The most upsetting fact from this report is that none of the major three toilet paper manufacturers—Procter & Gamble, Georgia-Pacific or Kimberly-Clark—use recycled material in their product. That means brands like Cottonelle, Scott, Charmin, and Ultra Soft are terrible for the environment. It does, however, mean your tushy is only graced with the most pristine premium wood pulp, so there's always a bright side.
Tags: ancient china | historical artifacts | hygiene | inventions
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