The origin of the use of tissue paper in our daily lives

Having a roll of absorbent paper, paper towels or toilet paper on hand has always been a very useful daily habit. Most of us use them every day. However, how long have people used this type of paper? What is the history of tissue paper or also called absorbent paper?

When we talk about paper and cardboard products, we have to differentiate the production of cellulose from the production of paper. Cellulose is the fiber that is used as a raw material to make paper and can be of forest or plant origin. In turn, the term “paper” encompasses different types that are classified as: 

  • Cultural: newspapers, books and all types of papers for printing and writing. 
  • Industrial: papers for making corrugated cardboard, kraft, cardboard, waterproof, for packaging. 
  • Domestic: tissue paper such as toilet paper, napkins, kitchen rolls, handkerchiefs.

The first origins

In 1857, the New Yorker Joseph C. Gayetty launched on the market what he called “Gayetty Medicated Paper”, under the advertising call, “a completely pure article for your hygiene.” Thus was born modern toilet paper, which at that time consisted of sheets of unbleached Manila paper, watermarked with the inventor’s last name. However, commercial success did not accompany that initiative, and Gayetty’s toilet paper had almost no sales.

In England, manufacturer Walter Alcock tried to launch his own toilet paper in 1879; Instead of making it in loose sheets, he made it in rolls of sheets separated by perforation lines to be torn off. However, his initiative clashed with the English Puritanism of the time, which did not find it convenient to see that type of product on store shelves.

The several failed attempts by Gayetty and Alcock were finally surpassed by the American brothers Edward and Clarence Scott, who, thanks to an aggressive and effective advertising campaign, took the honor of obtaining the commercial triumph of toilet paper rolls, introducing to the market a world-known brand that is still actively marketed today.

To the toilet paper created by Gayetty, Alcock and the Scott brothers, today various products are added under the generic tissue paper: paper napkins, disposable handkerchiefs, sanitary towels, hand towels paper and, of course, as we have mentioned, toilet paper.

But to reach all these tissue paper products that we use today, society has seen several evolutions. And that is why we also refer to the origin of the so-called absorbent paper. Absorbent paper, made from tissue paper, was initially known as paper towels.

The origin of paper towels dates back to the beginning of the 20th century and, like many inventions, of accidental origin.

In 1907, Philadelphia (United States) suffered some outbreaks of an epidemic. A local school teacher, concerned about what this illness was causing in his students, had the idea of cutting square pieces of notebook paper (which were of a smooth texture) and giving them to the children. He began to distribute this paper to his students who had colds, he taught them to use those pieces of paper only once, without using them again or leaving them lying around anywhere.

They were intended to serve as a substitute for the handkerchiefs and cloth towels that were used and whose use only helped spread the disease. In this way, this use of paper, which was used only once and was thrown away, prevented the transmission of germs from one sick child to another thanks to an available, relatively cheap and disposable material.

The Scott Paper Company, the main toilet paper company in the world, and Arthur Scott (who we mentioned in the first lines of the article), heard about this professor who had developed a novel idea to help fight colds at school. Arthur Scott liked the idea so much that he was convinced that he could use the discarded paper from his productions for that purpose.

He made the first paper towels from a car full of rejected toilet paper. These small sheets of paper were sold as disposable paper towels. The name of the product was «Sani-Towels» with the slogan «For use once by one user». Each sheet was an individual towel that was approximately 33 x 45 cm in size.

The current use of tissue paper

Over the years, absorbent paper has found many other uses for which it was created and has been established in homes and companies around the world with multiple and varied uses. . A great idea born from the mind of a Philadelphia schoolteacher and the experimentation of Arthur Scott, which led to the revolutionary discovery of paper towels.

As we have already mentioned, absorbent paper includes all paper for cleaning and drying liquids. There are many types of paper that fall within this description, some of the most important are:

  • Paper towels: Primarily used for drying hands, they are often sold in large rolls as an alternative to conventional cloth towels and also in boxes in individual sheet packs. 
  • Industrial absorbent paper rolls: they are mainly used in large industrial companies or in places where it is common for liquids to be spilled or hands to be dried frequently. The normal thing is that they are large, resistant and durable rolls. 
  • Kitchen paper rolls: it is a very common type of paper, it is sold in an elongated roll format and is used to remove stains or dry surfaces.
  • Paper napkins: whether on your table at home or at a restaurant, they are the perfect and disposable substitute for cloth napkins that must be washed after each use.
  • Paper tissues, or disposable tissues: are a type of paper used for mainly hygienic purposes. 

Tissue products, which include paper towels and toilet paper itself, play a very important role in modern day-to-day life. They are designed to provide strength, ultra-light weight, softness and absorbency all at the same time. Since today we cannot conceive our daily routines without using one of them at some point. 

Abrir chat
Hola 👋
¿En qué podemos ayudarte?