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Toilet Paper History: How America Convinced the World to Wipe

Linda Rodriguez

by Linda Rodriguez – November 7, 2009 – 12:24 PM

Since the dawn of time, people have found nifty ways to clean up after the bathroom act. The most common solution was simply to grab what was at hand: coconuts, shells, snow, moss, hay, leaves, grass, corncobs, sheep’s wool—and, later, thanks to the printing press—newspapers, magazines, and pages of books. The ancient Greeks used clay and stone. The Romans, sponges and salt water. But the idea of a commercial product designed solely to wipe one’s bum? That started about 150 years ago, right here in the U.S.A. In less than a century, Uncle Sam’s marketing genius turned something disposable into something indispensable.

How Toilet Paper Got on a Roll

toilet-paper-1The first products designed specifically to wipe one’s nethers were aloe-infused sheets of manila hemp dispensed from Kleenex-like boxes. They were invented in 1857 by a New York entrepreneur named Joseph Gayetty, who claimed his sheets prevented hemorrhoids. Gayetty was so proud of his therapeutic bathroom paper that he had his name printed on each sheet. But his success was limited. Americans soon grew accustomed to wiping with the Sears Roebuck catalog, and they saw no need to spend money on something that came in the mail for free.

Toilet paper took its next leap forward in 1890, when two brothers named Clarence and E. Irvin Scott popularized the concept of toilet paper on a roll. The Scotts’ brand became more successful than Gayetty’s medicated wipes, in part because they built a steady trade selling toilet paper to hotels and drugstores. But it was still an uphill battle to get the public to openly buy the product, largely because Americans remained embarrassed by bodily functions. In fact, the Scott brothers were so ashamed of the nature of their work that they didn’t take proper credit for their innovation until 1902.

“No one wanted to ask for it by name,” says Dave Praeger, author of Poop Culture: How America Is Shaped by Its Grossest National Product. “It was so taboo that you couldn’t even talk about the product.” By 1930, the German paper company Hakle began using the tag line, “Ask for a roll of Hakle and you won’t have to say toilet paper!”

As time passed, toilet tissues slowly became an American staple. But widespread acceptance of the product didn’t officially occur until a new technology demanded it. At the end of the 19th century, more and more homes were being built with sit-down flush toilets tied to indoor plumbing systems. And because people required a product that could be flushed away with minimal damage to the pipes, corncobs and moss no longer cut it. In no time, toilet paper ads boasted that the product was recommended by both doctors and plumbers.

The Strength of Going Soft

In the early 1900s, toilet paper was still being marketed as a medicinal item. But in 1928, the Hoberg Paper Company tried a different tack. On the advice of its ad men, the company introduced a brand called Charmin and fitted the product with a feminine logo that depicted a beautiful woman. The genius of the campaign was that by evincing softness and femininity, the company could avoid talking about toilet paper’s actual purpose. Charmin was enormously successful, and the tactic helped the brand survive the Great Depression. (It also helped that, in 1932, Charmin began marketing economy-size packs of four rolls.) Decades later, the dainty ladies were replaced with babies and bear cubs—advertising vehicles that still stock the aisles today.

By the 1970s, America could no longer conceive of life without toilet paper. Case in point: In December 1973, Tonight Show host Johnny Carson joked about a toilet paper shortage during his opening monologue. But America didn’t laugh. Instead, TV watchers across the country ran out to their local grocery stores and bought up as much of the stuff as they could. In 1978, a TV Guide poll named Mr. Whipple—the affable grocer who implored customers, “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin”—the third best-known man in America, behind former President Richard Nixon and the Rev. Billy Graham.

Even still, the toilet paper market in the United States has largely plateaued. The real growth in the industry is happening in developing countries. There, it’s booming. Toilet paper revenues in Brazil alone have more than doubled since 2004. The radical upswing in sales is believed to be driven by a combination of changing demographics, social expectations, and disposable income.

“The spread of globalization can kind of be measured by the spread of Western bathroom practices,” says Praeger. When average citizens in a country start buying toilet paper, wealth and consumerism have arrived. It signifies that people not only have extra cash to spend, but they’ve also come under the influence of Western marketing.

America Without Toilet Paper

Even as the markets boom in developing nations, toilet paper manufacturers find themselves needing to charge more per roll to make a profit. That’s because production costs are rising. During the past few years, pulp has become more expensive, energy costs are rising, and even water is becoming scarce. Toilet paper companies may need to keep hiking up their prices. The question is, if toilet paper becomes a luxury item, can Americans live without it?

The truth is that we did live without it, for a very long time. And even now, a lot of people do. In Japan, the Washlet—a toilet that comes equipped with a bidet and an air-blower—is growing increasingly popular. And all over the world, water remains one of the most common methods of self-cleaning. Many places in India, the Middle East, and Asia, for instance, still depend on a bucket and a spigot. But as our economy continues to circle the drain, will Americans part with their beloved toilet paper in order to adopt more money-saving measures? Or will we keep flushing our cash away? Praeger, for one, believes a toilet-paper apocalypse is hardly likely. After all, the American marketing machine is a powerful thing.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Toilet paper image courtesy of Cary Norton

February 25, 2010 Posted by | Advertising, Men of a Certain Age, Shopping | Comments Off on Toilet Paper History: How America Convinced the World to Wipe

I understand that art is subjective . . .

Todd Goldman is a famous artist. His designs are everywhere, t-shirts, posters, and famous people’s walls. Just a quick search after a blurb on VH1 has showed me that I’ve been completely ignorant when it comes to this man’s greatness. This is probably because I have a 10 year old artist and she’s thrown away artwork that was more original than what this ‘artist’ gets paid for some of his creations.

Some of his stuff is funny and very cute. However, $65,000 for an original?

Here are some examples:


From archives

Rihanna’s Painting Purchases

Rihanna’s Painting Purchases

Rihanna poses with friends at the Grove’s Jack Gallery in Los Angeles on Saturday night.

The “Umbrella” singer, who turned 20 yesterday, purchased seven paintings by pop cartoonist Todd Goldman as an early birthday present for herself, including the one she is photographed in front of, “Fat Kids Are Harder To Kidnap.”

“Half of the paintings are going to her house in L.A. and half to her apartment in NYC,” a source exclusively tells

Rihanna also picked up other pieces of artwork including “Goodbye Kitty in a Microwave,” “Gold Digger Like a Hooker Just Smarter,” “My Mom Says Not to Run Scissors,” “Barbie is a Slut,” “A Salt with a Deadly Weapon,” and “Smurf Blue Balls.”

To see more of Todd’s artwork visit or to see his clothing line, visit

Am I missing something here? 


January 3, 2010 Posted by | Advertising, Artwork, Greed, Humor?, Shopping | | Comments Off on I understand that art is subjective . . .

Gap Commericals: Were they meant to make me IMMEDIATELY turn the channel? Because that’s what I do.

I won’t post the link because if you watch TV you know the stupid, annoying Gap cheerleading commercials. I go for the remote faster than I do for a “Girls’ Gone Wild” commercial.

Cheerleaders bug me. Not during the games, not during their practices, and not during pep rallies. No the cheerleaders (and wannabees) that bugged me were the ones who had to practice their moves at the bus stop, or, as I was reminded a few weeks ago, in line at a ride at Sea World. We get it. You are a cheerleader. Good for you. I will clap for you during a game and admire how cute you are but please, don’t bring back that memory of annoying cheerleaders who cannot stand still without doing their “moves.”

I also had my own cheer for the Gap.

“I – –

Will never shop at Gap ==

Your ads annoyed my nap = =

Go elsewhere to sell your crap == “

December 8, 2009 Posted by | Advertising, Greed, Holidays, Shopping | Comments Off on Gap Commericals: Were they meant to make me IMMEDIATELY turn the channel? Because that’s what I do.

Teach your spoiled brat about homelessness . . . for $100

LOS ANGELES — Meet Gwen Thompson. She’s the latest doll from American Girl and she’s homeless.

The Wisconsin-based company which “celebrates girls and all they can be,” is known for its tasteful, beautiful dolls that reflect periods in American History.

But, reviews are mixed on the newest addition.

Some say “Gwen” is sending the wrong message to America’s girls.

“That’s actually really disturbing, and that’s not the American dream,” one woman told KTLA. “I thought these were American Girl dolls.”

Others say the doll can be used as a teaching tool to help create awareness about what’s going on in the world.

“I think it’s truthful. I think it’s right on,” said another woman, who told KTLA she used to live on the streets.

Each doll comes with its own storyline. Gwen’s story is told through another doll’s biography.

Her father ran out on the family and her mother lost her job. Soon, the fatherless family was living in their car.

“Gwen” sells for $95.

None of the money is used to directly help the homeless, another factor fueling the controversy.

“To me this is a very cute girl, and there’s nothing cute about being homeless,” said Matt Kamin, who works to help take children off the streets in Los Angeles. “And I have a problem with American Girl making money off the plight of being homeless.”

American Girl, however, has donated almost $500,000 since 2006 to HomeAid, a national nonprofit group that tries to help the homeless find housing.

There are between 7,000 and 10,000 homeless children in Los Angeles.

“Gwen” is a “limited edition” doll, only slated to be available for a few more months.

October 5, 2009 Posted by | Greed, Shopping | Comments Off on Teach your spoiled brat about homelessness . . . for $100

Groceries Delivered: Lazy or Smart??

I sometimes have groceries delivered. If you buy certain items or have a special code, you can get the delivery for free.

You shop online and pick your items. I like to do it when I order cases of water or other heavy items. There are no “impulse” buys because there aren’t any displays to grab from.

Fruit, meat and veggies I prefer to buy in person.

With delivery I don’t have to drag my child to the store (she’s been acting very impatient in public) and I don’t have to deal with traffic, parking, lines, etc. I also can’t use coupons so that sucks but I can get many special deals that are only online.

So, here I wait. Delivery is expected by 3:00. I want my Swedish Fish (I’m sending some to an online friend who never heard of them) and I want my soap. Yes. I ran out of soap for our body. Who does that? Who runs out of bar soap? Well, I did and I kept forgetting to buy it. Shampoo is not quite the same. Also haven’t shaved anything and I’m going swimming with humans tomorrow.

I also bought myself some new clothing. I weekly wear the same outfits every week. Same shirts, same pants, different days. It gets so old. When I went shopping for the funeral I saw that Kohl’s had many cute tops that I would like to add to my pathetic wardrobe. Kid and I went yesterday and she was bored, bitchy and annoying. I never shop for myself but next time I will not bring her for the ride.

Meanwhile, I’ve been buying her clothes for years. She grows out of stuff fast and she’s now between Girls’ and Womens’. I guess that would be Juniors? I don’t know how sizes works but nothing really fits her right.

August 8, 2009 Posted by | Shopping | Comments Off on Groceries Delivered: Lazy or Smart??