Be thankful we no longer use corn cobs and rope ends
Friday 27 Mar 2020
It was “Gayetty’s Medicated Paper.” Made of hemp, it had the inventor’s name proudly watermarked on each sheet. Now the novel coronavirus and consumer panic-buying have made Gayetty’s creation scarce, and prompted a look back at the history of toilet paper and its predecessors.
To start with, Gayetty’s product was a luxury. A dollar — about $30 today — got you 1,000 sheets, according to newspaper ads of the time. It wasn’t yet on a roll. But “all persons who neglect to make systematic use of [it] for the Water Closet are doing themselves injustice.”
Four medicines blended with the paper pulp “render it a sure cure and preventive of piles,” the ads stated. “All other paper is poisonous,” Gayetty asserted. Paper bearing printed material was especially bad. “Printer’s ink is a rank poison … [and] persistent use of printed paper” would eventually lead to piles, a.k.a. hemorrhoids, he claimed.
It was a breakthrough. But research and advances didn’t stop. In 1890, Irvin and Clarence Scott, of Philadelphia’s Scott Paper Co., revolutionized toilet paper when they began marketing it on rolls. It wasn’t a new idea, but the subject was delicate and hadn’t been pushed. (Mention of toilet paper rolls in ads goes back at least to 1886.)
On April 9, 1889, Oliver Hewlett Hicks, of Chicago, received a patent for a new kind of roll. Normally, he pointed out in his application, when the desired number of sheets are pulled off the roll, it can often be hard to locate the following sheet next time around if it is not hanging down. Hicks suggested a two-ply role with uneven layers of sheets to make the end easier to find.
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