With all of the buzz about “toilet paper”we thought it would be fun to provide some real data and insight. The research company IRI, TP manufacturer Georgia-Pacific, who makes Quilted Northern and Angel Soft say that the average U.S. household of 2.6 people uses about 409 regular rolls per year. Keep in mind, those numbers increase +140% vs. average daily use when we factor staying at home 24-7. These trying times have also led others to investigate alternative options.

Throughout history, humans have gone “to the bathroom” even when “bathroom” meant “over there, behind a rock.”  While the elimination process hasn’t changed much over the years, the immediate aftermath certainly has. Initially, people just cleaned themselves up with whatever was handy; rocks, sticks, leaves, corncobs, or (yeeouch) wood shavings.  The Chinese were the first to use sheets of paper for toilet purposes, dating back to the 6th century AD. The widespread use of toilet paper, however, was still 1300 years away. 

The Romans, who used communal bathrooms, used a sea sponge attached to a stick to clean themselves. Between uses, the stick was plunged into the moving seawater below, and if you were unfortunate enough to follow an inconsiderate pooper, you likely ended up with the “wrong end of the stick”, yep that’s where the phrase originated. 

Americans living in rural locales made up over 80% of the population into the late-1800s, and they used good old fashion common sense and the tools they had available, meaning at most outhouses you would find a corncob hanging from a stick. I’m told that the bare, “shucked” corn cobs would become soft and easy to use. Eventually, the Sears & Roebuck catalog and The Old Farmer’s Almanac changed everything and there was a quantum leap in bathroom technology. Not only was the Sears catalog free, but it contained hundreds of soft, uncoated pages, and gave you something to read during your time in the outhouse. In fact, photos of the Almanac from the 1800s and early 1900s show the book was made with a hole in the corner, so it could easily be hung up in the outhouse. 

When early forms of toilet paper first became commercially available it was in the mid to late-1800s and was called “Medicated Paper for the Water Closet”, contained aloe, and was marketed as being good for hemorrhoids. The patent for perforated rolls somewhat similar to what we use today was patented in 1871 by Zeth Wheeler. The Scott brand made toilet paper rolls beginning in 1890s. However, many people were uncomfortable buying the product, because Americans simply weren’t comfortable talking about their own bodily functions. In addition, many say early toilet paper was literally uncomfortable until the 1930s because it often contained small splinters.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, indoor plumbing and flush toilets were becoming more common, so Americans were forced to deal with their issues and buy toilet paper that would not cause clogs or damage to pipes. Another big advancement in the toilet paper industry came in 1928, when the Hoberg Paper Company introduced “Charmin” toilet paper, gave it a feminine logo, and advertised its softness instead of its purpose. The product was extremely successful and toilet paper quickly became a necessity instead of a luxury item reserved only for royalty or the very wealthy.

According to Charmin company lore, someone said the rolls of toilet paper they were producing along with their elegant, ladylike packaging were “charming” and thus Charmin toilet paper was born. The feminine charm of the packaging helped Americans get over the discomfort of speaking about bodily functions. In the 1930’s an economical 4 roll pack was introduced, which many say helped the company survive the Great Depression. In the 1950’s, the company name was changed to the Charmin Paper Company. Charmin changed the “Charmin lady” on the packaging to the “Charmin baby” to symbolize the ultimate in softness. This would be followed by the famous ad campaign of the 60’s and 70’s admonishing women and men around the country with “don’t squeeze the Charmin!” to highlight the paper’s tempting squeezability. 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. Ultimately, the company landed on a campaign called “Call of Nature” featuring an outspoken family of animated bears who are unafraid of talking about “the go” and how to enjoy it.

Yes, we’ve come a long way and have become spoiled with the quality of today’s toilet paper. But the big debate still remains, should the roll go “over or under”? I’ve included the patent picture below, along with a few other interesting facts about toilet paper: (Source: PopularScience, Today, Yahoo, Dollar Shave Club)

One tree produces about 200 rolls of toilet paper and about 83 million rolls are produced per day. The world population uses nearly 30,000 trees every day in toilet paper. That means we use 10 million trees each year in toilet paper. The weight of a normal tree is 1,020 pounds which yield around 460 pounds of blanched chemical mash. Approximately 800 rolls of toilet paper are produced from a single tree. Therefore, about 385 trees are used in the manufacturing of toilet paper that one person uses within his life span.

Toilet paper revenues in Brazil alone have more than doubled since 2004. Data still suggests that +4 billion people do NOT use any type of toilet paper, that’s over half of the world’s population. 

Despite fewer than half of the world not using, we still sell more than seven billion rolls of toilet paper yearly here in the United States. The average American uses on average 57 squares a day or 50 pounds of tissue paper per year which is 50% more than the average of other Western countries or Japan. Don’t forget, 61% of people use toilet paper for nose care, 17% use toilet paper to wipe up small spills, and 8% use toilet paper to remove makeup. The higher use in the United States may be explained by the fact that other countries people use bidets or spray hoses to clean themselves.

1935 Northern Tissue invented splinter-free toilet paper. In 1942 toilet paper becomes softer, St. Andrew’s Paper Mill in England began selling the first two-ply toilet paper. 

Colored toilet paper in colors such as pink, lavender, light blue, light green, purple, green, and light yellow was commonly sold in the United States from the 1960s. Up until 2004, Scott was one of the last remaining U.S. manufacturers to still produce toilet paper. I remember my mom always having colored toilet paper that would match those crazy furry covers that went on the lids. 

It is estimated that 72% of people hang the toilet paper roll with the end of the paper roll going over the top, which is considered the “right” way. 

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