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Happy Toilet Paper Day

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26 August: Toilet Paper Day

I have no idea who it is makes the decision on what to celebrate on each day of the year, but once upon a time someone saw fit to designate 26 August as International Toilet Paper Day – a day to celebrate a rather inconspicuous household item that is recognised and used by millions around the world.

So who invented toilet paper?

It seems that no-one is entirely sure when toilet paper was first used. People from different parts of the world had many different ideas for looking after their own personal hygiene. Well-to-do Romans might have used a tersorium – a sea sponge on a stick soaked in salt water and vinegar and shared with others in the public latrine. Others used clay, stones, vegetation – early American settlers commonly used corncobs (ouch!) – and of course whatever came most conveniently to hand whilst using the convenience.

It is believed that the first use of a paper product for personal hygiene can be traced back to the year 589 AD in Korea, and up to the early 14th century paper was produced in large sheets, often perfumed, for Chinese emperors and their families.

Paper was, though, a rare commodity until the late 17th/early 18th centuries. The first reference to paper as toilet paper was recorded in 1718 – no coincidence then that newspapers became widely available in the 1700s and even then the populace managed to find a fitting use for them!

The invention of the first commercially available packaged toilet paper, known as Gayetty's Medicated Paper was attributed to Joseph C Gayetty in the United States in 1857. Sold in packs of flat sheets and impregnated with aloe, the paper was available into the 1920s.

Rolled and perforated paper came later as, in 1871, Seth Wheeler of Albany became the official inventor of toilet paper as perhaps we know it today. His Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company began selling the first toilet paper on a roll.

Later Thomas Seymour, Edward Irvin and Clarence Wood Scott founded the Scott Paper Company in Philadelphia. They manufactured customised paper products for various applications and began producing toilet paper under its own brand name in 1896. By 1925 Scott Company became the leading toilet paper company in the world. You can still buy Scott branded products today.

One problem with these earlier iterations of toilet paper was that paper making processes often failed to fully remove small splinters from the finished product. (No, don't think about it!) In 1935 Northern Tissue tackled the tissue issue with its invention of a method of 'linenising' toilet paper.

Softer toilet paper then became a reality for consumers and provided an advertising slogan for Northern Tissue who proudly promoted its product as 'splinter-free'.

  • In 1942 St. Andrew's Paper Mill (Walthamstow) produced the first soft, two ply toilet tissue.
  • In 1954 Northern Tissue produced the first coloured toilet tissue to complement the décor in your bathroom.
  • In 1964 Charmin produced perfumed toilet tissue.

So back to the question 'who invented toilet paper'?

So many inventors of slightly different iterations, so many contradicting historical references to a simple product we find so essential in our daily lives that as recently as 2020 at the outset of the Covid pandemic, panic buying cleared the shelves of every last roll!

Happy toilet paper day everyone!

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