The Most Necessary Invention. That was the title on the email a friend sent me. He’d found an article that listed the most important inventions in each state. New York is credited with the invention of toilet paper.
As a historical fiction writer, I was intrigued by the date. Joseph Gayetty created the product in 1857. It was made of manila hemp dipped in aloe. Advertised to heal hemorrhoids. Later the advertising declared it the proper thing to use on that delicate part of your body. Seth Wheeler in 1871 patented an improved version that wrapped around a cardboard tube and was perforated for easy tear-off sections.
I was amazed it had been invented in the mid-1800s. After all, I’d heard people used the Sears catalogue and other printed pages while in the outhouse. I was surprised at the date because my uncle in the 1960s still used corn cobs in his outhouse. Although, he also had a roll of toilet paper in there.
At a dollar for 1000 sheets, I imagine only the rich could afford toilet paper back then.
The friend who sent me the article is a Civil War reenactor. He has a variety of period items on display near his tent. One of those is a packet of Stansfield’s Supreme Fine Ragg paper product. Toilet paper without the tube or the perforation. All you Civil War writers out there might want to place that in your soldier’s rucksack.
Joseph Gayetty was one of the few commercial toilet paper manufacturers until 1898. In 1935—seventy-three years after the first toilet paper was made—the Northern company presented the first splinterless toilet paper.
Thinking about toilet paper reminded me, I have my heroine standing in an outhouse at the beginning of my yet unpublished novel Bride in Disguise. My mind reviewed outhouse descriptions. Newer versions are still around today in camp grounds, national parks, the Amish and survivalists.
Then my mind went to all the outhouses I’ve experienced in my life. My great-aunt lived in a small town. She had running water but no indoor toilet. Her outhouse was a pristine two-holer. One hole for children and one for adults. A good housewife prided herself on keeping the outhouse immaculate. My great-aunt May’s was spotless white and reeked of bleach.
My uncle’s on the other hand wasn’t as pleasant. It had spiders in the rafters. That experience helped me describe outhouse unpleasantness in my novel.
When my father was stationed in England in the late 1950s, we found several people in town had outhouses. While our house had indoor plumbing, I remember very clearly the cute little house outback with windows and curtains.
A few years ago, my husband and I took our third trip to the Philippines. We were presented with some memorable experiences we had been able to avoid in previous trips. Most Asian toilet are squatters. And although there are western toilets in the Philippians, this community in the jungles had no indoor plumbing. The outhouse didn’t even have a roof. And technically, it didn’t have any walls. Instead, blue tarp was draped around a small area. There was a handle to hold while you squatted over a porcelain tile buried in the ground. Not accustoming to squatting, I held my hubby’s hands while I did my business. As long as I was squatted, I was hidden from view. The tarp protection reached only waist high.
Thanks for putting up with my mind wondering from toilet paper to outhouses across the world.
What unusual piece of research took your mind to unusual places? Did it end up as part of your novel’s setting?