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A Brief History of Toilet Paper and Its Predecessors

A Brief History of Toilet Paper and Its Predecessors-1

Billions of people use toilet paper daily, but have you ever stopped to think about what people used before its invention? The journey through the evolution of toilet hygiene is both fascinating and humbling, offering a glimpse into our ancestors' resourcefulness — and a generous dose of gratitude for modern technology.

When Was Toilet Paper Invented?

Toilet paper dates back to ancient China, where the first recorded use of paper for personal hygiene was recorded in the 6th century. However, in the 14th century the Chinese began mass-producing toilet paper. The practice slowly spread to other parts of Asia and, eventually, to the West.


What Did People Use Before Toilet Paper?

Before the invention of toilet paper, people had to get creative in their quest for cleanliness. Various materials were employed, including:

The Sponge Stick – Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, people used a tool known as a tersorium, essentially a sponge attached to the end of a stick. After use, the user rinsed the sponge in a bucket of saltwater or vinegar and left it for the next person. While the idea of a shared sponge is wholesomely unappealing today, it highlights the resourcefulness of ancient Roman society.


Hay, Straw, and Wool – The Middle Ages

During the Middle Ages, Europeans resorted to using natural fibers like hay, straw, and wool as wiping materials. These materials were readily available and affordable, but certainly left something to be desired in the realm of softness and strength, at least by today's standards. Unrolling the Past- A Brief History of Toilet Paper and Its Predecessors-2 Corncobs were used to wipe throughout the 1700s.

The Corn Cob – Colonial America

Resources were scarce in colonial America, where corncobs became a popular choice for personal hygiene. While the rough texture of the corncob may seem uncomfortable by today's standards, they served their purpose during a time when alternatives were limited.


Newspapers and Almanacs – the 18th Century

In the 18th century, newspapers and almanacs found a second life as makeshift toilet paper. While the ink could be messy, the abundance of printed material made it a readily available option for those who could afford it.

The Rise of Modern Toilet Paper

The 19th century marked a turning point in toilet paper history. Joseph Gayetty, an American entrepreneur, introduced the first commercially available toilet paper in 1857. His product, marketed as a "Medicated Paper, for the Water-Closet," was sold in packages of 500 sheets for 50 cents.


It was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that toilet paper as we know it today became widely popular. The Scott® Paper Company introduced the first perforated toilet paper roll in 1890, but it wasn't until 1930 that it was finally manufactured "splinter-free." Yikes.

From ancient civilizations using natural materials to the mass production of modern toilet paper, humanity's journey to a clean bum has been marked by creativity and resourcefulness. Next time you reach for a roll of toilet paper, take a moment to appreciate that you've never had to use a communal sponge.

Resource: All the Ways We've Wiped: The History of Toilet Paper and What Came Before.

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