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1890s) was an American inventor credited with the invention of commercial toilet paper. It was the first and remained only one of the few commercial toilet papers from 1857 to 1890 remaining in common use until the invention of splinter-free toilet paper in 1935 by the Northern Tissue Company.
Joseph Gayetty – Inventor of the Toilet Paper
In the long history of toilet papers, today one man remain remembered as one of the key inventors that managed to start the era of the widespread use of this toilet accessory. Before Joseph Gayetty came with his invention, only one country in the world had access to the toilet paper as we use today. It was China.
Fist mentioning of the toilet paper
After centuries of using water, rags, sticks, sand, leaves, corncobs, animal furs, finally American inventor Joseph Gayetty came to his invention – commercial toilet paper!
Following Gayetti’s commercial disaster, several other inventors tried to create successful products. Most notably Englishman Walter Alcock created paper in a roll (again unsuccessfully), and in 1867 brothers Thomas, Edward and Clarence Scott managed to successfully market their toilet paper. From that point on, use of toilet papers became widespread in the entire world.
Soft, strong and long: The story of toilet paper
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.
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.
(A later inventor attacked the same problem by proposing a “roll” shaped like a kidney bean. Neither invention panned out, and the problem persists.)
But progress continued.
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.”
History and evolution
The Chinese are credited as being the first to use sheets of paper for toileting purposes, dating to the 6th century AD. The invention did not become popular until the 14th century, when the Imperial Court of the Ming Dynasty had it manufactured in 2-foot-by-3-foot sheets, and even perfumed for use by the emperor’s family.
Almost 200 years later, the first flushing toilet was invented in 1596 by the British nobleman Sir John Harrington. He invented a valve that when pulled would release the water from the water closet and suggested that flushing should be conducted at least twice a day. Rumor has it that this is where the name the “john” originated.
Paper was a rare commodity until the 17th or 18th centuries; the first reference to paper as toilet paper was recorded in 1718. After the invention of paper, pages from newspapers and magazines such as the Sears catalog and Farmers’ Almanac were also commonly used. The Farmers’ Almanac actually had a hole in it so that it could be hung on a nail or string.
Because of this extensive history of “prior art,” it no doubt would have been difficult to pass the novelty test to obtain a patent on such a product. But Joseph C. Gayetty is credited with having invented the first packaged toilet paper in the United States in 1857. “Gayetty’s Medicated Paper” was sold in packages of flat sheets (500 sheets for $0.50), medicated with aloe to help cure sores and watermarked with his name on each sheet. Gayetty’s toilet paper was available as late as the 1920s.