At the onset of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, store shelves were quickly emptied of toilet paper, revealing the commodity’s prominent, yet unspoken role in modern-day society. Although humans have cleaned their bottoms for as long as they have walked the Earth, “three-ply” and “extra-soft” didn’t always describe toilet hygiene. Before the introduction of mass-produced, commercially available toilet paper in the mid-1800s and the continued improvements made into the early 20 century, people relied on less luxurious ways to wipe their bums.
From Seashells to Communal Sponges
Through history, local customs and climate often dictated how anal hygiene was carried out. Social hierarchy also had in impact on toilet habits. What’s clear is that humans in all time periods have used a variety of natural tools and materials to clean themselves. In very ancient times, wiping with stones and other natural materials and rinsing with water or snow was common. Some cultures opted for seashells and animal furs.
“The most famous example of ancient ‘toilet paper’ comes from the Roman world [during the first century A.D.] and Seneca's story about the gladiator who killed himself by going into a toilet and shoving the communal sponge on a stick down his throat,” says Erica Rowan, an environmental archaeologist and a lecturer in classical archaeology at the University of London. The sponges, known as tersoriums, may have been used once or cleaned in a bucket of vinegar or salt water and reused, or they may have been used more like toilet brushes than toilet paper.
Beyond the communal sponge, Greco-Romans also used moss or leaves and pieces of ceramic known as pessoi to perform cleansing. Pieces of pessoi may have started as ostraca, broken bits of pottery that often had the names of enemies inscribed on them—a proverbial way to soil upon adversaries.
Small fragments of cloth found in a sewer in Herculaneum, Italy, one of the towns buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., could have been used as another form of toilet paper, although Rowan points out, “Cloth was made by hand in antiquity so using cloth to wipe your bum would have been quite a decadent activity. It's the equivalent to using the softest and most expensive three-ply today.”
In 1992, archaeologists discovered 2,000-year-old hygiene sticks, known as salaka, cechou and chugi, in latrines at Xuanquanzhi, a former Han Dynasty military base in China that existed along the Silk Road. The instruments, cut from bamboo and other wood, resembled spatulas. The ends were wrapped in cloth and contained traces of preserved fecal matter.
The Introduction of Paper as a Wipe
Although paper originated in China in the second century B.C., the first recorded use of paper for cleansing is from the 6th century in medieval China, discovered in the texts of scholar Yen Chih-Thui. In 589 A.D, he wrote, “Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from the Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes.”
By the early 14th century, the Chinese were manufacturing toilet paper at the rate of 10 million packages of 1,000 to 10,000 sheets annually. In 1393, thousands of perfumed paper sheets were also produced for the Hongwu Emperor’s imperial family.
Paper became widely available in the 15th century, but in the Western world, modern commercially available toilet paper didn’t originate until 1857, when Joseph Gayetty of New York marketed a "Medicated Paper, for the Water-Closet,” sold in packages of 500 sheets for 50 cents. Before his product hit the market, Americans improvised in clever ways.
Barry Kudrowitz, associate professor and director of product design at the University of Minnesota, has studied the history and use of toilet paper. Through the 1700s, corncobs were a common toilet paper alternative. Then, newspapers and magazines arrived in the early 18th century. “The ‘legend’ goes that people were primarily using the Sears catalog in outhouses, but when the catalog began to be printed in glossy paper people needed to find a replacement,” says Kudrowitz. Americans also nailed the Farmer’s Almanac onto outhouse walls, leading the company to pre-drill the legendary “hole” into their publication in 1919.
The first perforated toilet paper rolls were introduced in 1890, and by 1930 toilet paper was finally manufactured “splinter free.” Today, softer, stronger and more absorbent describe the toilet paper found in American homes.
Toilet Paper Hoarding
Shifts in attitudes and practices over time, including those associated with bathroom habits and hygiene, can help explain why people in modern society feel compelled to have toilet paper on hand, particularly during a crisis. For instance, in the Middle Ages, people considered human waste both good—being valuable and worth money (excellent for crops)—and bad—filthy and disgusting (excellent for humor and insults).
“The good is little accepted today, despite endeavors to [re]use excrement for energy,” says Susan Signe Morrison, a professor at Texas State University and author of Excrement in the Late Middle Ages: Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics.
In ancient Rome, public toilets consisted of stone or marble slabs with a series of holes in them. There were no dividers and therefore no privacy. People ended up (quite literally) sitting right next to each other and sharing the communal sponge. Now, most Americans would be embarrassed at the mere thought of running out of toilet paper.
“It’s psychological,” says Morrison. “We hoard toilet paper because we fear having to face our poo. If we run out of toilet paper, how will we wipe our bottoms?”
What Is Toilet Paper Made Of?
Toilet paper may be a household staple, but how many of us have actually questioned what our go-to brand is made of? Knowing exactly what is in the item we use on our most sensitive areas empowers us to make active, informed decisions, as opposed to simply grabbing whatever brand is on sale.
Traditional toilet paper – as with most paper products – comes from trees. In fact, a company called Northern Tissue announced the first-ever guaranteed splinter-free toilet paper in 1930!
Luckily, modern toilet paper is proudly splinter-free and generally made from one of two materials: virgin or recycled pulp.
Virgin pulp comes directly from a tree specifically to make toilet paper. Recycled pulp, on the other hand, comes from existing paper products in fact, recycled pulp can potentially have been used many times prior to becoming toilet paper.
What may surprise you though, is to learn that despite the name, you can’t actually recycle recycled toilet paper. Luckily, there are other toilet paper options out there. One of the best things you can do for both your behind and the environment is to make the switch to bamboo toilet paper!
What did people do before toilet paper?
History shows it’s been around for a surprisingly long time—and that we’ve projected our anxieties on its supply before.
In a time of panicked pandemic buying, it can be tempting to think back to a time of abundant toilet paper supplies—or to wonder how people used to wipe in the age before 24-packs of extra-soft three-ply sheets. Hundreds of millions of people around the world today, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, don’t even bother with the stuff, preferring instead to finish their bathroom visit with a clean rinse of water. But archaeologists and anthropologists have done plenty of interesting dirty work as they document how people wiped themselves in other cultures back in the day.
If you relieved yourself in a public latrine in ancient Rome, you may have used a tersorium to wipe. These ancient devices consisted of a stick with a vinegar- or salt water-soaked sponge attached. They are mentioned throughout Roman literature, including a gruesomely unforgettable passage in a letter by the philosopher Seneca to Roman official Lucilius that relates the suicide of a German gladiator who shoved a stick tipped with a sponge “devoted to the vilest uses” down his throat rather than head into the arena to die by wild animal.
Used communally, the humble tersorium is thought to have influenced the era’s public bathroom design. Small troughs at the feet of the public lavatories of Ephesus were thought to be sources of continually flowing water—all the better to dip your tersorium in. However, archaeologists have yet to discover a preserved example. “The question is, do you use it to clean yourself or to clean the latrine?” asks archaeologist Jennifer Bates, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Museum.
Archaeologists have yet to settle the sponge-on-stick debate. But they have uncovered samples of pessoi, a humbler, ancient Greek and Roman toilet paper equivalent. Consisting of small oval or circular pebbles or pieces of broken ceramic, pessoi have been uncovered in the ruins of ancient Roman and Greek latrines. They’re even immortalized on a 2,700-year-old drinking cup that shows a man squatting and making use of his stone. Pessoi even rate a mention in the Talmud.
This is backed up by another creative pre-toilet-paper wiping solution excavated in 1992 at the site of a former stop on the ancient Silk Road in northwest China. There, archaeologists discovered seven so-called “hygiene sticks”—bamboo or wood sticks wrapped with cloth and designed to be used for wiping—in a latrine area. The cloth on the 2,000-year-old sticks was covered with what looked to be human excrement, and microscopic analysis of the feces confirmed that they contained a variety of parasites found in human intestines.
“They were found in a very specific context of a latrine, and the parasite on them can only come from a human,” says Bates. “These have definitely been used in a latrine context.”
This find is backed up by historical texts that indicate sticks and spatulas were used in ancient China and Japan (one Zen koan even equates the Buddha to a “cleaning stick”).
China was ahead of the curve on toilet paper, too. The earliest reference to toilet paper was found in materials written by Yen Chih-Thui, a sixth-century A.D. scholar who obviously had access to discarded manuscripts for personal purposes, yet said that he didn’t dare to wipe himself “on the names of sages.” But the practice seems to have been in effect earlier than that. Researchers suggest that hemp paper like that found in the tomb of second-century A.D. emperor Wu Di—too crude and rough for writing—was used in the bathroom instead.
By 1393, rice-based toilet paper was mass-produced for the Chinese imperial family. In contrast, it took until 1857 for the Western world to get its first mass-produced toilet paper. That’s the year inventor Joseph Gayetty introduced J.C. Gayetty’s Medicated Paper for the Water Closet in an attempt to ease American behinds from the ravages of newspaper, corn cobs and other improvised toilet items, including the Sears mail-order catalog.
There’s historical precedent for runs on toilet paper, too. In 1973, Japanese women began buying huge amounts of toilet paper, lining up in front of stores to stockpile rolls. It was a response to growing fear among middle-class Japanese people that their postwar aspirations for peace, stability, and economic mobility would be wiped out by inflation, environmental degradation, and the oil crisis, explains Eiko Maruko Siniawer, a historian at Williams College.
“For the first time since the late 1950s, it didn’t seem certain that the future would be better than the past,” says Siniawer.
The toilet paper hoarding in Japan stoked some fears in the United States as well, prompting a Wisconsin congressman to issue a statement on a potential shortage. When comedian Johnny Carson joked about the situation on “The Tonight Show” in 1973, he inadvertently sparked a short-lived toilet paper panic.
“To me, as a historian, it’s important not to laugh off people’s decisions and actions, but to think about why they did what they did,” says Siniawer. She sees the 1973 toilet paper run as a window into the lives of Japanese women at the time. Similarly, says Bates, studying the bathroom habits of yore can shed light on everything from intercultural differences to issues of gender, money, and health.
“From an anthropological perspective, we can look at the larger ways [toilet habits] affected the development of the human past into the human present and then into the human future,” says Bates.
All too often, she adds, people dismiss the mundane practice of using the toilet. But that very common act offers important insight into who we were, who we are, and where we’re headed next.
What Did People Use Before Toilet Paper?
The first recorded use of something resembling toilet paper comes from 6th century China where the more affluent members of society would use wads of paper to clean their nether regions.
In the Tang dynasty, a visiting diplomat to China from the middle east commented: “They are not careful about cleanliness, and they do not wash themselves with water after they have done their necessities, but they only wipe themselves with paper.”
By the Song dynasty, the Emperor decreed that paper measuring 2 feet by 3 feet be made available for his bathroom needs. This is the first-time paper was made specifically for toileting.
Early Chinese hemp fiber paper. Photo by Ytrottier CC BY SA 3.0
In Ancient Rome, where shared public toilets were all the rage, they preferred to use a tersorium, a communal sponge on a stick, which was stored in strong sea brine or vinegar when not in use.
Remains of Roman public toilets at Carthage, Tunisia.
Sometimes this would be passed from person to person, and occasionally someone would end up grabbing the wrong end of the stick, leading to much hilarity and sometimes infection and death.
Seneca tells the story of a Germanic gladiator in 64AD who committed suicide by tersorium rather than face the horrors of the Colosseum.
Things were equally as strange in Ancient Greece where there was also a sponge on a stick called a xylospongium, but the preferred method was pieces of ceramic called pessoi.
These were used in a left to right scraping motion and historians have estimated that your average wipe would use three pieces.
A replica xylospongium (sponge on a stick). Photo by D. Herdemerten ( Hannibal21 ) CC BY 3.0
While it was common to do the business al fresco, there is evidence that the more privileged in society had access to flushing toilets.
As the Times reports, “The oldest flushing toilets in the world are thought to be in the Minoan palace of Knossos, in Crete, where their 4,000-year-old remains can still be seen. Minoan royalty sat on a wooden seat over a clay bowl, which was flushed with water into stone sewers.”
Dholavira sophisticated water reservoir, evidence for hydraulic sewage systems in the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. Photo by Rama’s Arrow CC BY-SA 3.0
In ancient Japan they used a metal implement called a chugi that looked similar to a tongue depressor to clean any hard to reach areas — thankfully there are no reports of anyone confusing the two.
Things were slightly more sanitary in the ancient Middle East where they would use running water and their left hand to direct the stream of water to the correct area and then making sure to thoroughly wash the hand after use.
Anal cleansing instruments known as chūgi from the Nara period (710 to 784) in Japan. The modern rolls in the background are for size comparison. Photo by Chris 73 CC BY-SA 3.0
In Europe it was common to use rags which could be washed and used again, many of these rags ended up in the sewer system, so it’s impossible to know how many times these rags were used before being thrown away.
In the Americas it was common to use the corn cobs once the corn had been removed, this was a popular option because the cobs were readily available and surprisingly soft and flexible.
Even though the flushing toilet was invented in 1596, the first toilet paper was not produced until 1857, when an American inventor called Joseph Gayetty began selling with first therapeutic paper infused with aloe at 500 sheets for 50 cents.
Initially, Gayetty’s product was sold as a medical accessory, advertised as a help for people who struggled with hemorrhoids.
An advertisement for Gayetty’s Medicated Paper.
Before Gayetty’s invention became popular, people were using whatever they could get their hands on. Mail order catalogs and publications such as the Farmer’s Almanac were favorite bathroom substitutes, or something more natural like a piece of moss, piles of dirt or a bit of fur, or even in some cases mussel and oyster shells.
Although Gayetty was very proud of his invention, the product was later remembered as a commercial disaster. Following his example, a few other inventors tried to place their papers in a roll on the market.
Many of them were unsuccessful until 1867 when the brothers Thomas, Edward, and Clarence Scott managed to successfully market their toilet paper.
So, 1867 was the year when the perforated toilet paper in rolls, as we know it today, saw a wider use.
In 1935, Northern Issue started advertising the “splinter-free” toilet paper on the market. And in 1942, St. Andrew’s Paper Mill, in the UK introduced softness by launching the two-ply paper.
From that point on, it was only a matter of quality of the TP – size, weight, resistance, roughness, residues, water-absorption, etc. Some companies invested in surveys to come up with the perfect formula for a better product. This, for example, led to adding aloe in the paper to soften it.
Rolls of toilet paper produced by Nokia in the 1960’s, Museum Centre Vapriikki, Tampere, Finland. Photo by Catlemur CC BY SA 4.0
The quality of this product depends on its durability, coarseness, and quantity of piles. The low-grade TP consists of only 1 or 2 piles and sometimes can be very rough. Mid-Grade is stronger and slightly softer while the ultimate quality is the Premium paper consists of 2 to 4 piles.
This high-grade TP might be enriched with lotions and creams for softness, and it can be textured, patterned, or quilted so that it would also have a luxury feel.
The Ladies’ home journal (1948)
Eventually, the price difference between the two types of papers decreased, and the soft one became the preferred choice of the people.
For most of the 20 th Century, there was a huge gap between the ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ toilet paper not only in the quality but also in the price. The hard one was more affordable and it was common to have prints on it, such as ‘NOW WASH YOUR HANDS PLEASE’, ‘IZAL MEDICATED’, or ‘GOVERNMENT PROPERTY’ which was written on every sheet towards the perforated parts.
A fistful of leaves
The Chinese preference for toilet paper, however, did not travel well. The people of Britain were content with fistfuls of wool or leaves. Aristocrats would deploy scraps of linen. Or rather, they’d have someone deploy them on their behalf: a servant’s manual from the fourteenth century advises the ‘groom of the stool’ to be ready with an ‘arse-wipe’ at the critical moment.
With the advance of the printing press, people soon turned to the disused pages of pamphlets and books. As the seventeenth-century author Thomas Browne wrote: ‘He that writes abundance of books, and gets abundance of children, may in some sense be said to be a benefactor to the public, because he furnishes it with bumfodder and soldiers.’
Gayetty was not alone in his attempt to commercialise toilet paper. But it was his product that caused the biggest storm. The sheets, Gayetty declared, were ‘delicate as a bank-note and as stout as foolscap’. But what really riled the medical establishment was his claim that printer’s ink was poisonous and caused haemorrhoids, and that his paper could ‘cure and prevent piles’. There’s no truth in the claim, but that did not stop many companies from pushing loo roll as a remedy until the 1930s.
Medical journals soon went on the attack. The New Orleans Medical News and Hospital Gazette declared: ‘Mr Gayetty of New York City has found that the public mind is prepared for anything whatever in the shape of humbuggery.’ The Medical and Surgical Reporter also accused Gayetty of taking advantage of the public, drolly saying that he was attempting to ‘catch them with their breeches down’. The Lancet was less worried about the general public than the fate of the surgeons who made a good living curing piles. ‘Their occupation is now gone to the wall. All that is required is a simple piece of paper with the name “Gayetty” stamped on it.’
When Did Toilet Paper Start Appearing on a Roll?
In the late 1800s, Clarence and E. Irvin Scott developed a type of toilet paper that could be rolled onto a small cardboard tube, making manufacturing and packaging simpler and quicker for machines and factories to turn out. By selling their product to hotels and drugstores around the United States, the Scott brother&rsquos toilet paper began to gain traction with the nation&rsquos wealthy citizens who wanted an alternative to using printing paper.
Who Invented Toilet Paper—and What Came Before - HISTORY
Today I found out that toilet paper was first used by the Chinese about 1300 years before it caught on with the rest of the world. The first references of people using toilet paper dates back to the 6th century AD in the Chinese Imperial courts and amongst the other wealthy citizens of China. This eventually spread throughout China and by the 14th century there was an annual manufacturing of around ten million packages of toilet paper in the Zhejiang province alone.
This however, did not catch on with the rest of the world for some time. Indeed, a Muslim traveler to China in the 8th century noted “They (the Chinese) are not careful about cleanliness, and they do not wash themselves with water when they have done their necessities but they only wipe themselves with paper.” It wouldn’t be until the late 1800s when toilet paper would be introduced in America and England and it wasn’t until the 1900s, around the same time the indoor toilet became common, that toilet paper would catch on with the masses.
So what did people use before toilet paper? What was popular depended greatly on region, personal preference, and wealth. Rich people often used hemp, lace, or wool poor people often would poop in rivers and clean off with water, rags, wood shavings (ouch!), leaves, hay, rocks, sand, moss, sea weed, apple husks, seashells (Demolition Man much?), ferns, and pretty much whatever else was at hand and cheap/free.
The Ancient Romans favorite wiping item, including in public restrooms, was a sponge on a stick that would sit in salt water and be placed back in the salt water when done… waiting for the next person… *shudders* (kind of brings new meaning to the saying “the wrong end of the stick”)
Ancient Greeks were a little more sanitary, using stones and pieces of clay. America’s favorite wiping item tended to be corn cobs and, later, Sears and Roebucks, Farmers Almanac, and other catalogs. The Farmers Almanac even came with a hole in it so it could be easily hung in bathrooms for just this purpose.
The 16th century French writer Francois Rabelais, in his work Gargantua and Pantagruel, notes that after pooping paper was useless, “Who his foul tail with paper wipes, shall at his ballocks leave some chips.” He instead recommended that “the neck of a goose, that is well downed” worked best.
In India and other middle eastern countries, even today, the preferred method is to wipe using nothing but your left hand and water and then, of course, wash your hand well afterward and don’t handle any food or the like with your left hand as such, people who are left handed tend to be forced to become right handed early on in those regions.
For seaman, the common thing was to use old frayed anchor cables (seriously, how their butt’s survived, we may never know). The Inuit’s and other peoples living in frigid regions tended to go with clumps of snow to wipe with, which, other than the coldness factor, is actually one of the better options it seems compared to many other of the above methods.
Around 1857, Joseph Gayetty came up with the first commercially available toilet paper in the United States. His paper “The greatest necessity of the age! Gayetty’s medicated paper for the water-closet” was sold in packages of flat sheets that were moistened and soaked with aloe (about 130 years ahead of his time as it wasn’t until the 1990’s that toilet paper companies started doing this again). Gayetty’s toilet paper sold for about 50 cents a pack, with 500 sheets per pack. This wasn’t terribly popular, presumably because up to this point most people got their wiping materials for free from whatever was at hand.
Around 1867, brothers Edward, Clarence, and Thomas Scott, who sold products from a push cart, started making and selling toilet paper as well. They did a bit better than Gayetty, presumably because their original toilet paper wasn’t coated with aloe and moistened, thus was cheaper rather it was more just rolls of somewhat soft paper (sometimes with splinters). They also had the somewhat innovative idea of putting the names of the companies that were buying the toilet paper on the paper. This wasn’t initially done as a business move to help sell the paper, rather was because they were uncomfortable with having their family name literally soiled. Putting the company names, such as with the Waldorf Hotel, on the toilet paper was a huge hit with the companies they were selling to and helped them stay in business where Gayetty had failed.
As the indoor flushable toilet started to become popular, so did toilet paper. This is not surprising considering there was nothing really to grab in an indoor bathroom to wipe with, unlike outdoors where nature is at your disposal. The age old Farmers Almanac and similar such catalogs also were not well suited for this purpose as in indoor plumbing it tended to clog up the pipes.
Before Toilet Paper
What did people use before toilet paper was invented?
Before the advent of modern toilet paper many different materials were used for the same purposes. Different materials were used depending upon the country, weather conditions, social customs and status.
People used leaves, grass, ferns, corn cobs, maize, fruit skins, seashells, stone, sand, moss, snow and water. The simplest way was physical use of one's hand. Wealthy people usually used wool, lace or hemp.
Romans were the cleanest. Wealthy used wool and rosewater and others used sponge attached to a wooden stick, soaked in a bucket of salt water.
The Greeks would use clay.
In Coastal Regions, mussel shells were used (and sometimes coconut husk).
Europeans used hand (but they also used fountains with luxury of warm water).
People from Islamic cultures used they left hand with little water (they are still doing that today). This is why it is offensive to greet someone with your left hand.
The Eskimos would use moss or snow.
The Vikings used wool.
The Colonial Americans used the core center cobs from shelled ears of corn.
The Mayans used corn cobs.
The French invented the first bidet (of course without of modern plumbing).
The Chinese invented the first toilet paper as we know it in the 14th Century.
What did people use before toilet paper was invented?
The ancient Greeks used ceramics bearing an enemy's name.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, toilet paper was nearly as hard to come by as personal protective equipment. Though toilet paper has existed in the Western world since at least the 16th century A.D. and in China since the second century B.C., billions of people don’t use toilet paper even today. In earlier times, toilet paper was even more scarce.
So what did ancient humans use to wipe after going to the bathroom?
It can be difficult to tell using the archaeological record, said Susan Morrison, a medieval literature professor at Texas State University and author of the book "Excrement in the Middle Ages Sacred Filth and Chaucer’s Fecopoetics" (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). "Most of the material we don't have because it's organic and just disappeared," Morrison told Live Science. However, experts have been able to recover some samples — including some with traces of feces — and depictions of toilet paper’s precursors in art and literature.
Throughout history, people have used everything from their own hands to corn cobs to snow to clean up after bowel movements. One of the oldest materials on record for this purpose is the hygiene stick, dating back to China 2,000 years ago, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. Hygiene sticks, also called bamboo slips, were wooden or bamboo sticks wrapped in cloth.
During the Greco-Roman period from 332 B.C. to 642 A.D., the Greeks and Romans cleaned their derrières with another stick called a tersorium, according to a feature in the BMJ. The tersorium, which had a sponge on one end, was left in public bathrooms for communal use. Some scholars argue that the tersorium may not have been used to clean people's behinds but the bathrooms they defecated in. People cleaned the tersorium by dumping it in a bucket of salt or vinegar water or by dipping it in running water that flowed beneath the toilet seats.
Greeks and Romans also tidied up with ceramic pieces rounded in the shape of an oval or circle, called pessoi. Archaeologists have found pessoi relics with traces of feces on them, and an ancient wine cup features a man wiping his bum with pessoi. Greeks may have also wiped with ostraka, ceramic pieces that they inscribed with the names of their enemies when voting to ostracize them. After the vote, they may have wiped their feces on their enemies’ names. However, these ceramic materials may have damaged the butt over time, causing skin irritation and external hemorrhoids, according to the BMJ.
In Japan in the eight century A.D., people used another type of wooden stick called a chuugi to clean both the outside and inside of the anus — literally putting a stick up their buttocks. And though sticks have been popular for cleaning the anus throughout history, ancient people wiped with many other materials, such as water, leaves, grass, stones, animal furs and seashells. In the Middle Ages, Morrison added, people also used moss, sedge, hay, straw and pieces of tapestry.
People used so many materials that a French novelist, François Rabelais, wrote a satirical poem on the topic in the 16th century. His poem gave the first mention of toilet paper in the Western world, but he called it ineffective. Rabelais instead concluded that a goose neck was the best option. Though Rabelais was joking, "feathers would work as well as anything organic," Morrison said.
Granted, even today toilet paper isn't universal. For instance, the Australian news outlet SBS Punjabi lightheartedly mocked Westerns desperate for toilet paper early in the pandemic, urging them to "wash not wipe" with a gentle jet stream of water.
Originally published on Live Science.
Here how the ancient nation of Israel some 3,500 years ago was commanded to do when they had to go "to the bathroom" while on their 40 year trek from Egypt (for toilet tissue was only mass-produced, commercially available in the mid-1800s onward), that they were to go to "a private place. designated outside the camp. A peg (or piece of wood for digging) should be part of your equipment. When you squat outside (the camp at the designated place), you should dig a hole with it and then cover your excrement. For Jehovah your God is walking about within your camp to deliver you and to hand over your enemies to you, and your camp must be holy (or clean both physically and ceremonially), so that he does not see anything indecent (or unclean such as having human excrement within the camp) and turn away from accompanying you".(Deut 23:12-14)
At the time, Egypt was the world power who did not have hygiene restrictions, using excrement of flies (as well as the blood of mice, urine) in their remedies for health issues, revealing their ignorance and fundamental understanding of the what constitutes "good health".
Such lack of understanding may have contributed to some of the ' terrible diseases known in Egypt ' (Deut 7:15) that likely included elephantiasis (gross enlargement of an area of the body, especially the limbs), dysentary (infection of the intestines), smallpox (a virus that causes a rash first on the face, hands and forearms and then later appears on the trunk or midsection), bubonic plague, ophthalmia (inflammation of the eye) and other ailments, while the nation of Israel, in dramatic contrast with "medical" practices described in Egyptian texts, was protected from such diseases by adhering to the hygiene requirements established by Jehovah God.
Some 25 years ago, in a manual advising how to avoid diarrhea—a common disease that leads to many infant deaths—the World Health Organization states: “If there is no latrine: defecate away from the house, and from areas where children play, and at least 10 metres from the water supply cover the faeces with earth".
Grateful for toilet paper? Here's the history of how tp came to be
In olden times, sailors used the frayed end of a rope dipped in salt water.
Rural folk, legend says, once used corn cobs hung in outhouses.
Stones, moss, currency, newspapers, catalogues, almanacs, literature and government proclamations served until, by most accounts, a New York City inventor named Joseph C. Gayetty came up with the first commercial toilet paper around 1857.
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.
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.
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.
(A later inventor attacked the same problem by proposing a "roll" shaped like a kidney bean. Neither invention panned out, and the problem persists.)
On Sept 15, 1891, according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Washington, Seth Wheeler, of Albany, New York, received patent No. 459,516, which was designed to ensure that only one sheet of paper came off the roll at a time.
"Since the advent of rolls of paper for the above-named uses, many devices designed to prevent waste have been patented," Wheeler wrote in his patent application. "All these devices have been more or less complicated, liable to derangement, and expensive to . . . manufacturer."
His perforation design would help prevent the unwanted and wasteful unraveling of too many sheets.
Another welcome development was the creation of "splinter free toilet paper."
In the early 1900s, Wisconsin's Northern Paper Mills reportedly boasted of its super-refined toilet paper, which was free of minute wood pulp splinters left over from the paper-making process.
By 1943, its toilet paper was advertised as "soft and oh so gentle."
Not so the products of the distant past.
The Romans used a sponge on the end of a stick, according to British writer Richard Smyth's history of toilet paper. And Gayetty, the inventor, wasn't the last to have toilet paper bear his imprint.
Numerous American politicians have appeared on rolls, including President Donald Trump.
And prior to World War II, some British toilet paper was made with images of Adolf Hitler and other Nazi leaders on the sheets.One such roll went up for auction last year, according to the BBC. The roll had been found in a barn, and dated to the late 1930s, just before the war started.
"It's rather thin war-issue paper and wouldn't stand up to much," said Thomas Jenner-Fust of Chorley's Auctioneers, the BBC reported.
It was only 20 sheets — one depicted Hitler giving his Nazi salute — but sold for about $240.
"That has to be a world record for toilet paper," Jenner-Fust said. "You could say we were flushed with success."