So, you are out on the John Muir Trail (JMT) and nature calls. Your first thought: Why doesn't Nature have a 1-800 number. Of course, Mother Nature isn't calling you on the phone. Mother Nature is much too busy to take the time to make a personal phone call. Second, your cell phone is not going to have enough bars to get any kind of service on most of the JMT. Mother Nature is making a figurative, euphemistic call. You need to drop your pack, head into the woods or brush, pray there isn't a timber rattler lurking, and do your business.
Speaking of business, you've probably never given Seth Wheeler a second thought. Why should you give old Seth any thought whatsoever? Well, it has to do with August 26th. You see our publication date, August 26th, just happens to coincide with National Toilet Paper Day. Yes, just about every freakin' thing you can possibly think of now has a “National Day” of commemoration. If Hallmark puts out a Toilet Paper Day card, you can pretty much pack your belongings for the impending apocalypse.
Seth Wheeler of Albany, New York, patented the first American toilet paper roll in 1871. Seth called it rolled and perforated wrapping paper, in keeping with the modest attitudes of Victorian times. Because folks were too bashful to ask for the product, let alone purchase it, Wheeler had to reform his company to survive economically. To satisfy the needs of his new company Wheeler filed a re-patent. The drawings accompanying that re-patent filing solve the long debate, whether toilet paper should be hung to roll over or under. Wheeler's drawing for the patent distinctly displays an “over” roll.
Though Wheeler invented the toilet paper roll, the Scott Paper Company, founded in 1879, perfected the business of selling it. By the 1920s it outsold every other toilet paper vendor worldwide. For the 1% the invention of toilet paper in the United States can be traced to Joseph Gayetty. In 1857 he introduced Gayetty's Medicated Paper, which was sold in boxes filled with flat sheets, watermarked with Mr. Gayetty's name.
Since I've already mentioned the apocalypse, anyone fifty or older should remember that the U.S. has already experienced the modern apocalypse of a national toilet paper shortage. Perhaps you've forgotten this 1973 example of the power of the media. Amid the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo Johnny Carson, host of the Tonight Show, quipped: “You know what's disappearing from supermarket shelves? Toilet paper. There's an acute shortage of toilet paper throughout the United States.”
As soon as stores opened the next morning Americans bought up every package in every store in the land. After a few days of t.p. hysteria Carson reassured television viewers that it was only a joke juxtaposed against the oil crisis. Nevertheless, it took more than three weeks before production of new t.p. rolls caught up with a nationwide frenzy of toilet paper buying and hoarding.
About 1,500 years ago the Chinese came up with the concept of using paper products to clean one's backside. Before that, Romans used sponges and salt water. Streams, lakes, and seas served early man and womankind as nature's bidets while the landlocked got by with clumps of leaves or grass.
If you want a paper invention to celebrate on August 26th without bringing up outhouse wipes, try the name Ottmar Mergenthaler on for size. One might call Mergenthaler, a German-born American immigrant, the second Gutenberg. In 1884 he patented the linotype machine that stamped and cast metal type, replacing manual typesetting, thus revolutionizing the production of mass circulation newspapers. Then again, you probably have to be fifty or older to appreciate widely circulated newspapers or even the concept of reading print on paper.