APRIL 25, 2020

When it comes to toilet paper We Americans a just a bunch of softies. Sure, we may talk tough, but the bottom line is that we'd rather wrestle a rabid skunk than face an empty toilet paper cardboard roll. Our obsession is unique too. “According to some studies, more than 70 percent of people in the world, don't use toilet paper!” 


So how did we get to this situation? Our ancestors didn't have any Angel Soft. They had to use whatever was at hand and sometimes a hand was all that was at hand. There was no Charmin on the Mayflower. It was the Boston Tea Party, not the Boston TP Party. No one heading west on the Oregon Trail stopped at Costco for Cottonelle. Compared to our forefathers and sisters, we have it pretty soft. 


Some historical perspective is in order here. “Since the dawn of time, people have found ways to clean up after the bathroom act.” The most common solutions included: coconuts, shells, snow, moss, hay, leaves, grass, corncobs, sheep's wool, sponges, rags, wood shavings, rocks, sand, sea weed, apple husks, and ferns. “Later, people used Sears and Roebucks, Farmers Almanac, and other catalogs.  The Farmers Almanac even came with a hole in it so it could be easily hung in bathrooms for just this purpose.” 


In fact, here in the U.S.A. toilet paper (as we recognize it) was not available commercially until 1857. “The first products were aloe-infused sheets of manila hemp dispensed from Kleenex-like boxes. They were invented by a New York entrepreneur named Joseph Gayetty. Gayetty was so proud of his therapeutic bathroom paper that he had his name printed on each sheet.”

This sheet-by-sheet advertising was innovative, but in 1890 an improvement happened. “Two brothers named Clarence and E. Irvin Scott popularized the concept of toilet paper on a roll. The Scotts' brand became more successful than Gayetty's medicated wipes. It was still an uphill battle to get the public to openly buy the product, largely because Americans remained embarrassed by bodily functions.”


Ah, but never underestimate the value of perceptive marketing strategy. “In 1928, the Hoberg Paper Company tried a different tack. The company introduced a brand called Charmin and fitted the product with a feminine logo that depicted a beautiful woman. The genius of the campaign was that by evincing softness and femininity, the company could avoid talking about toilet paper's actual purpose. Charmin was enormously successful.” 


This was all well and good, but many people still preferred the catalog route. Why pay for something when an alternative came in the mail for free? “Technology” turned the tide. “At the end of the 19th century, more and more homes were being built with sit-down flush toilets tied to indoor plumbing systems. And because people required a product that could be flushed away with minimal damage to the pipes, corncobs and moss no longer cut it. In no time, toilet paper ads boasted that the product was recommended by both doctors and plumbers.”


This all brings us to the present. “America can no longer conceive of life without toilet paper. Currently, the United States spends more than $6 billion a year on toilet tissue—more than any other nation in the world. Americans, on average, use 57 squares a day and 50 lbs. a year (100 rolls). Women spend more time with toilet paper than men, or approximately 32 months in a lifetime (25 months for men). (http://www.toiletpaperhistory.net/ and  https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/23210/toilet-paper-history-how-america-convinced-world-wipe)


Toilet paper is now so ingrained in our collective experience that it has engendered one of the great debates of modern times. Should toilet paper be dispensed over the roll or under the roll? This is not so easy to answer. Apparently, “over” people are different from “under” people. This was determined in a Toilet Paper Personality Test created by relationship expert  Dr. Gilda Carle. 


“Carle's experiment involved surveying roughly 2,000 people between 18 and 75, both men and women, of various ethnicities. The survey was simple: Carle asked them if they rolled their toilet paper under or over, and then asked a few additional questions on how assertive they thought they were with others.”


The results revealed this about the “over” people: “You're more likely to have a dominant personality type. People who have dominant personalities are often characterized by their take-charge, can-do, assertive nature; they also often fill leadership roles.” 


The “under” people exhibit specific traits, too. They tend to be more “easy-going, patient, flexible, and empathetic.”


In a related odd finding: “Many respondents claimed to change the direction of the toilet paper roll, even when they weren't in their own home.” The “over” people were the most likely to make this  clandestine adjustment.



As the late, great radio commentator Paul Harvey used to say: “Now you know the rest of the story.” The nex time you go forth in quest of the Great Northern you at least know why you are compelled to do so. 


Jim Neff is a local columnist. Read Neff Zone columns online at CadillacNews.com and NeffZone.com/cadillacnews.