The Bare Facts on Toilet Paper History

Someone recently asked me what did people use before the invention of the modern toilet paper rolls. Being a survivalist this question has been posed many times to me and I always try to answer it as honestly as possible.

It is only logical to presume that our modern toilet paper has not been around prior to the 19th century. The notion of Charmin or of Cottonelle is a fairly recent concept. Although when it was first introduced it was more of a novelty then a necessity as it is now our current contemporary home.

The original items that were previously used for our wiping pleasure ranged from various sticks and leaves to corn cobs and pieces of linen fabrics. Prior to the earliest known toilet paper product being introduced in the late 1800’s people reached for items commonly found around their environment.

It is rumored that those people who lived in the northern portions of the world generally used the tundra moss during the summer and resorted to handfuls of cold snow during the winter months. To those people who resided within the tropical zones old coconut shells and mussel shells were commonly employed.

The Greeks used clay pieces and stones while the Romans had the most logical method of cleaning that I have found. In ancient Rome they used a sponge which was attached to a stick and then immersed into a container of salt water.

In the 14th century the Chinese emperors were using scrapes of rice paper and the Europeans began using hay, grass, straw and old rags. Many early societies in the far eastern world used the left hand for wiping. This was considered to be an acceptable practice and has lead to the theory of why the right hand is extended in friendship and not the left.

During our own colonial era the corn cob was a popular item found within the common home. The first paper products used for personal wiping were the mail order catalogs which were hung in the privy area. The Old Farmer’s Almanac had special holes placed into it so as it could be carefully hung in the toilets.

The first actual toilet paper product is credited to the German Hans Klenk, an American named Arthur Scott and a British gentleman named W.C. Alcock. History has dedicated the toilet paper to these three men.

In 1928 Hans Klenk became the first European to roll paper bands however the American Arthur Scott had previously accomplished the same effect in 1890. W.C. Alcock created an alternative to the current popular newspaper use in the 1880s.

The modern toilet paper roll has definitely made life much easier and more hygienic for us all. At last count there were over 5,000 companies who produce bathroom tissue in various parts of the globe.

The same person asked me about how much toilet paper they should store up on for emergency use. As survivalists we believe in storing food for as much as a year and as such we should store extra toilet paper also. You can roughly base your storage upon the rate of 1 roll of 1000 sheets per person every three days. So a rough count would be for storage of 100 rolls for one year per person.

Each family is different and these figures may very well change from one family to the next. When in doubt store extra as it will make a great trading material when needed.

Copyright @2008 Joseph Parish

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Photo. Hermaion


Editor’s Note:

There are some safe sources of “wild” toilet paper when you are outdoors/ camping.  Burdock leaves, Mullein, Lamb’s Ears or even Maple leavesOther leaves may be poisonous or cause severe burns to the skin so stick to the safe stuff.

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  1. Excellent addition to keep on hand. Assuming it is an 8oz or larger bottle, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of liquid shampoo, body wash or baby wash mixed in will make a rinse free body cleaner.


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