A brief history of bottom wiping
The ancient Greeks used clay and stone. The Romans used sponges on sticks, kept in pails of salt water or vinegar. Around the world, people have used whatever came to hand: water, leaves, moss, hay, corn cobs – or, for the rich, wool and hemp. In medieval China scholars used paper – which later became popular in Europe, after the invention of the printing press. But dedicated toilet paper is another US invention. In 1857, a New York entrepreneur named Joseph Gayetty made soft hemp sheets infused with aloe, which he claimed prevented haemorrhoids; he was so proud of his product, he had his name printed on each sheet. The toilet roll followed in 1890, again in the US, but it was still an uphill struggle to get people to buy it. “No one wanted to ask for it by name,” says Dave Praeger, author of Poop Culture. But paper grew in lockstep with the sit-down flush toilet: a product was required that could be flushed down with minimal blockages. Not all societies have gone down the paper route. In much of India, Asia and the Middle East, water is still dominant. The bidet – meaning “little horse”, because you straddle it – was once popular in France, less so today. In Japan, the bidet was married with the toilet to make the “washlet”, now found in 80% of homes.