August 30, 2011

A Brief History of Modern Butt Wiping

The Big Book of Gross Stuff has a chapter on bum-wiping that explains how throughout human history, people did NOT use toilet paper! And I see Mental Floss writer Linda Rodriguez has penned a nice history of modern toilet paper. Here are some of her lowlights!

Joe Shlabotnik
1857: A New Yorker named Joseph Gayetty invents butt wipers that he claims also cure hemorrhoids. They’re hemp sheets coated with aloe that are pulled from Kleenex-like boxes. And as I point out in Gross Stuff, Gayetty may have made a mistake by printing his name on each of the sheets. (“Mom! I need another Gayetty to wipe my bum with!”)

1890: Brothers named Clarence and E. Irvin Scott sell the idea of toilet paper on a roll. They don’t put their names on the paper. Wusses! The obstacle to selling rolled toilet paper was that Americans are prudes. So if the Scott brothers said, “This will make it easier to wipe your butt,” most Americans would have run away screaming and weeping. People were so uptight, the Scotts didn’t even admit they were involved with toilet paper for 12 more years. Oh, the shame!

Michel Filion
Late 1800s-early 1900s: Indoor plumbing means that sit-down flush toilets are getting common. Since folks couldn’t wipe their bums with corn cobs and then flush them, Americans finally came around to using toilet paper. (“Four out of five plumbers recommend you not stick a corn cob in the toilet!”)

1928: Charmin toilet paper comes out. It has a woman on the package. Amazing! This helps advertise how soft and dainty toilet paper was supposed to be, and people buy the stuff hand-over-roll.

1930: A company named Hakle uses the slogan, “Ask for a roll of Hakle and you won’t have to say toilet paper!” (This was perfect for American prudes.)

1973: Tonight Show host Johnny Carson jokes about a toilet paper shortage. Toilet paper sells out across the country. (I guess there are some things you just don’t joke about!)

1978: Charmin spokesperson Mr. Whipple (his motto: “Please don’t squeeze the Charmin”) is the third best-known man in the U.S.

This makes me very sad.

Don O'Brien

2011: Butt owners in the United States spend over $6 billion a year on toilet paper. And to think there was a day not long ago when we were all using corncobs (which are much cheaper)!

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