The very first references to something we now take for granted, came from China. The earliest reference occurred in AD 589, when Yan Zhitui, an official, wrote about how he “did not dare to use” paper that had quotes from the Five Classics of Confucianism or the names of the wise for ‘toilet purposes’. During the 1300s, the Emperor of China made a law that called for paper of a certain size (2×3 ft) for use in his bathroom. Why so big, it’s probably wise not to think about too much!
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It would still take many centuries for toilet paper to really get on a roll, as it were! People began using old newspapers and magazines, but, in 1857, a New York businessman named Joseph Gayetty first started selling toilet paper commercially packaged. Marketed as “The greatest need of the times!”, His ‘Medicated Paper’ came in single sheets impregnated with aloe and had originally been intended as a medical treatment for piles. Each sheet bore the Gayetty name, though why he thought that people wiping right on his name was OK, is anyone’s guess!
The sheets were not strong, however, and it took more than two decades or more before perforated toilet paper rolls appeared. That said, the quality of paper still meant that splinters were a common issue. Ouch! The 3-ply quilted toilet paper we enjoy today was a dream that wouldn’t arrive until the 20th century.