Invention

The last antecedent to toilet paper was paper. The Egyptians were the first to discover that papyrus could be made into paper around 2500 B.C. In 105 A.D., a Chinese court official named Cai Lun discovered that paper could be made from trees. The Arabs learned how to make paper from the Chinese in 712 A.D. Spain received this technological innovation during Arab occupation in 1150. England learned the art of paper making in 1590 and it spread to America in 1698.[1]

The Chinese began using paper for wrapping and padding in the second century B.C. In 589 A.D., Yan Zhitui wrote about that the first recorded use of toilet paper in human history saying, “Paper on which there are quotations or commentaries from Five Classics or the names of sages, I dare not use for toilet purposes.”[2] In 851 A.D., during the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), a Muslim traveling in China said, “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.”[3]

During the early 14th century of the Yuan Dynasty, the modern-day Zhejiang province annually manufactured ten million packages of 1,000 to 10,000 sheets of toilet paper. In 1393, during the Ming Dynasty, the Imperial court’s capital of Nanjing used 720,000 sheets of toilet paper that were two by three feet in size. According to the records of the Imperial Bureau of Supplies (Bao Chao Si), Emperor Hongwu’s imperial family used 15,000 sheets of special soft-fabric, perfumed toilet paper.[4]

In 1857, Joseph Gayetty of New York invented Gayetty’s Medicated Paper for the Water-Closet. It contained aloe and Gayetty marketed it as a means to cure sores and prevent the hemorrhoids that came from wiping with inked and chemically altered paper. It sold in packages of five hundred, flat, un-perforated sheets for fifty cents.[5] However, Gayetty never patented his product.

Gayettys Medicated Toilet Paper

Perforated Toilet Paper from the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company circa 1871-1884

Seth Wheeler patented rolled and perforated wrapping paper in 1871 and opened the Rolled Wrapping Paper Company in 1874, but could not make a profit. He then reorganized into the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company and began selling Perforated Toilet Paper on a roll in 1877. Wheeler, like Gayetty, also marketed his Perforated Paper as a viable alternative to the inked and chemically altered paper that caused sores and hemorrhoids.[6] According to an 1883 advertisement, the perforations, “secure economy unattainable in the Unperforated Roll package,” and were approved by physicians to provide relief from sores and hemorrhoids.[7]


[1] Horan, Julie L., The Porcelain God: A Social History of the Toilet (Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group, 1996), 142.

[2] “Toilet Paper,” http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Toilet_paper&oldid=265788968 (accessed January 22, 2009). Although wikipedia is not regarding as a scholarly source, the information provided in this article on January 22, 2009 was thoroughly researched and proven to be reliable. Wikipedia is cited due to its convenience of having all of the information readily available in one location.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Vault Design Group, “Toilet Paper.” http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/toiletpaper.htm (accessed January 24, 2009).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Gayetty, J. C., “Gayetty’s Medication Paper For the Water-Closet,” (Boston) Barton & Son Printing.

First image “Gayetty’s Medicated Paper,” Library of Congress, http://memory.loc.gov/rbc/rbpe/rbpe13/rbpe134/13400600/001dq.gif (accessed January 22, 2009).

Second image “Perforated Paper,” Nobody’s Perfect, http://nobodys-perfect.com/vtpm/ExhibitHall/Informational/1886_APW_ad.jpg (accessed January 22, 2009).

Third image “Albany Perforated TP,” Tagyerit, http://toiletpaper.umwblogs.org/files/2009/04/albany-perforated-tp.jpg (accessed March 31, 2009).

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