Rolling out the history of toilet paper: From Chinese royalty to Johnny Carson jokes

The world seems like a much different place than it did a few weeks ago. While toilet paper is flying off the shelves and going for more than $1,000 on some websites, it used to be seen as hilarious to fling it over your friends’ houses and trees as a Halloween prank.

But the role (and roll) of toilet paper in society stretches far, far beyond pranks and pandemics. Here’s a look at the timeline of toilet paper.

6th century: Getting it rolling

The first documented use of toilet paper was in sixth century China, even though paper had been used for packaging as early as the second century BC.

What were they using before that? We cringe thinking about it.

1391: Royal flushes

Toilet paper as we know it today, the kind that’s flying of shelves hundreds of years later, was made in 1391 according to historical records. It was actually created for the Chinese emperor and their family, and each sheet was coated in perfume.

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15th century: Paper trail

Paper becomes widely available. However, mass manufacturing the same modern toilet paper didn’t begin until the late 19th century.

1857: It hits the fan

Joseph Gayetty began selling commercially packaged toilet paper, which was made of hemp, with added aloe. Gayetty proudly printed his name on every sheet.

(Fun fact: Before this, people used sheets from the Sears catalog to wipe.)

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1867-1879: Great Scott!

Adding some competition in the marketplace, Thomas Seymour Scott, Edward Irvin Scott and Clarence Wood Scott began selling toilet paper in Philadelphia in 1867 and, in 1879, founded the Scott Paper Company. However, they didn’t begin selling toilet paper on roles until 1890.

1871: Tearing me apart

Zeth Wheeler patented rolled and perforated toilet paper. In 1897, he began selling and marketing standard perforated toilet paper on a roll.

1928: Bear necessities

The Hoberg Paper Company of Green Bay, Wisconsin rolled out a softer version of toilet paper. The brand later became Charmin. as legend goes someone said the packaging was “charming.” In the 1950s, Hoberg changed its name to the Charmin Paper Company.

1942: It takes two

St. Andrew’s Paper Mill, located in England, began selling the first two-ply toilet paper, which is the standard now in many countries.

1973: Cracking jokes

This isn’t the first shortage of toilet paper the U.S. has seen. In 1973, late night host Johnny Carson joked on his show that their was a shortage on toilet paper, scaring the masses into stocking up. See the joke below:

Adam Poulisse,

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.