In Ancient Rome, a sponge on a stick was commonly used, and, after use, placed back in a pail of vinegar. Several talmudic sources indicating ancient Jewish practice refer to the use of small pebbles, often carried in a special bag, and also to the use of dry grass and of the smooth edges of broken pottery jugs.
In Colonial America they used corncobs and leaves. In the early American West they also used corncobs and pages torn from newspapers and magazines. The Sears Catalog was well known for this purpose and gave rise to referring to it as the "Rears and Sorebutt" catalog. The Farmer's Almanac had a hole in it so it could be hung on a hook and the pages torn off easily.
Rolled and perforated toilet paper as we know it today was invented around 1880. Various sources attribute it to the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company and to the Scott Paper company. Being from a different era, Scott was too embarrassed to put their name on it so they customized it for their customers and the Waldorf Hotel became a big name in toilet paper.
In 1935, Northern Tissue advertised "splinter-free" toilet paper. The reason? Early toilet paper production sometimes left splinters embedded in it. Two-ply was introduced by St. Andrew's Paper Mill in Great Britain in 1942.
In 1391 the first report of toilet paper is that it was used by the Chinese emperor. It was a luxury item that was available only to royalty. It came in 2 foot x 3 foot sheets.
In 1596 the flushing toilet was invented by Sir John Harrington, who was a British nobleman and godson to Queen Elizabeth I. His invention had a valve that released the water from a tank. He recommended flushing it at least twice a day. In 1819 a silent valve was patented by Albert Giblin in England which allowed a toilet to be flushed more efficiently. Albert worked for Thomas Crapper who had a successful plumbing business and marketed the toilet (a French word meaning ‘the act of washing, dressing and preparing oneself) from 1861-1904. Hence the term “crapper.”
By the late 1800's the public was demanding better hygiene products that coincided with improvements in residential and commercial indoor plumbing. In 1857 a man named Joseph C. Gayetty of New York first produced and packaged toilet paper. His product consisted of pre-moistened flat sheets medicated with aloe and was named "Gayetty’s Medicated Paper". He printed his name on every sheet. His company was located in New Jersey and a package of 500 sheets sold for 50-cents. He marketed it as “Therapeutic Paper” and it was loaded with aloe to help cure sore butts. He also had his name printed on each sheet!
In 1890 toilet paper on a roll was introduced by the Scott Paper Company and it quickly became the nation’s leading producer of toilet paper. They sold it through private labels and drug stores because they didn't want to be associated with an “unmentionable” product. In 1902 the Waldorf brand was a big seller in Philadelphia by a paper jobber, Albert DeCernea, when Arthur Scott's son convinced his father that Scott paper should control their own brands and product specifications so Scott bought this private label and by 1921 the Waldorf brand was 64 percent of Scott’s sales.
In 1901 Northern Paper Mills from Green Bay Wisconsin became a competitor when they introduced Northern Tissue. It consisted of 1,000 4×10 inch sheets of tissue and each bundle came with a wire through it so it could be hung from a nail.
In 1910 Scott built its first manufacturing plant in Chester, PA to make toilet paper consisting of either 650 or 1,000 perforated sheets. The roll of 1,000 sheets sold for $.10 and it was considered a medical item. By the next year Scott eliminated all private-label manufacturing and no longer sold through resellers.
Not much changed in the toilet paper industry until 1932 when Charmin Acquired by Procter & Gamble in 1957) introduced its 4-roll package, making a convenient bundle purchase for shoppers. There was another big gap in the industry until 1954 when Northern introduced colored toilet tissue. Then, in 1955 toilet paper was first advertised on television by Scott.
Older Americans will remember Mr. Whipple who first appeared on television in 1964; he hawked Charmin toilet paper on television for over 20 years. Mr. Whipple was actually the president of the Benton & Bowles advertising agency and he came up with “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin” ad and sold the rights to Procter and Gamble for $1. On TV Mr. Whipple was played by Dick Wilson, a vaudeville actor. Other celebrities also advertised Charmin on television: in 1970 their commercials featured former Knots Landing star Joan Van Ark and Charlotte Rae from the sitcom The Facts of Life. Another popular brand, Cottenelle Toilet Paper was introduced by Kimberly Clark in 1972.
A big breakthrough came in 1973 when Charmin patented a process to make paper softer by air-drying which fluffed up the paper instead of the conventional method that squeezed it flat.
In 1986 Georgia Pacific jumped on the toilet paper bandwagon and introduced Angel Soft and Charmin introduced unscented Charmin that was free of inks, dyes, and perfumes.
The U.S. Government stuck their nose in the toilet paper business in 1992 when it introduced regulations that required toilet paper to flush using much less water. This new design parameter creates a condition where the ‘flushability’ of toilet paper is important.
The Jamanese Hanebisho brand is the most expensive...they use the finest wood pulp from Canada and water from Japan's cleanest river and each roll is signed and dated by the maker and inspected by firm's president. It'll cost you $17 a roll.
The History of Toilet Paper presented by Patrick A. Tollefsrud
Quilted Northern's Toilet Tissue through the Centuries