A brief his­tory of bot­tom wip­ing

The Week - - News | Briefing -

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.

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