March 4, 2020

Spotted Records

Though it has origins in 6th century China, toilet paper in the US had its first start in 1857 by New Yorker Joseph Gayetty, who marketed it as a medicinal product which could help hemorrhoid sufferers and was proud enough of his product to put his name on each individual sheet. Scott Paper Company founding brothers Clarence and E. Irvin Scott put the paper on a roll in 1890, but in an era sensitive about body functions, they were much less public about their company’s creation. Nonetheless, the spread of indoor plumbing helped the success of toilet paper, in part because it did not clog the pipes as readily as catalog pages, corncobs, moss (yep, you read all that right), and other items previously used for wiping.

In 1879, a Philadelphia schoolteacher handed out sheets of a soft type of writing paper to her students who were sick with colds, encouraging them to use the sheets once and throw them out rather than using less-sanitary cloth towels in the school bathrooms. 18 years later, a newspaper article about this teacher was remembered by Arthur Scott, president of the Scott Paper Company (and son of founder E. Irvin Scott) when he found himself with an entire train car worth of toilet paper that had been accidentally pressed too thick to use for the usual purpose. Rather then discarding it, Scott had it cut into towel-sized sheets and the first of several products that eventually led to the first paper towel for kitchen use in 1931.

The early precursor to modern diapers was swaddling a baby with cloth strips, though in middle-ages Europe, these swaddling strips were typically only changed after several days. The cloth diaper became popular in 1800s Europe, and got a boost by the safety pin in the 1880s. Washing diapers at home was tedious and time consuming, so diaper washing services arose during WWII, though it was also in the 1940s that the first disposable diapers were created, both in Sweden and the US. Only paper towels absorbed liquids in these early models, and about 20 years later the cellulose core greatly increased absorption and made for less frequent changing.