How Green Bay Toilet Paper Made Wiping Our Butts Easier

Northern-Paper Mill - Green Bay, Image Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society

Northern-Paper Mill – Green Bay, Image Courtesy of Wisconsin Historical Society

Green Bay is not only home to the Packers and Wisconsin’s oldest city… it is also the “Toilet Paper Capital of the World.”

Believe it or not toilet paper history is actually pretty fascinating. Well, maybe not so “pretty,” but definitely interesting! Northeast Wisconsin played an important part in the evolution of modern wiping.

Outhouse or outdoor toilet - the john - the crapper - How Green Bay Made Wiping Our Butts EasierThe first mention of humans using paper to wipe our bottoms was In 1391 AD. “Toilet paper” was made out of rags and considered a luxury item used only by the royalty in China.

The rest of the toilet-paper making history is quite overwhelming!

Inventors in England, France and the U.S. tried to create the perfect butt wipe. It took hundreds of years and much trial and error to get the soft and fluffy stuff we use today…

My Wisconsin grandma remembers being toilet paper-less. I asked her about her experiences back then. She clearly remembers having to walk a far distance to use the outhouse that she called “the crapper,” or “the John.”

Most people didn’t even have a flush toilet until the 20th century!

Before toilet paper was actually invented, people wiped their bottoms with pretty weird stuff, like…

  • Corn Cobs (yes, cobs not even husks!)
  • Rags (kind of wasteful not to mention unflushable)
  • Sponges (absorbent, but expensive)
  • Their Left Hand (this is still the case in some third world countries)

Maybe that’s why we shake hands with the right?!

sears catalouge for Toilet PaperAnother good one is the pages of the Farmer’s Almanac.

It was even made with a hole in it so it could hang by a nail or string and the pages could tear out easily.  This still seems a little scratchy, but at least you had some reading material.

My favorite is the Sears Catalog. Ouch! The Sears magazine was a well-known resource for cleaning up after doing the duty. They even created a funny spin off called the “Rears and Sorebutt” catalog!

Later in 1854, paper inventors finally came up with the brilliant idea to use wood-pulp from trees in the paper-making process. Then in 1857, Joseph Gayetty from New York introduced the first packaged “medicated paper” in America. Gayetty’s advertising tagline was:

“The greatest necessity of the age! Gayetty’s medicated paper for the water-closet.”

Joseph Gayetty's Medicated PaperHe used the term “medicated” because these flat sheets were pre-moistened and had lots of aloe to help with sores.

I’m sure there were a ton of sores back then…I can only imagine the things people went through. And who knows if they had Preparation H?!

Anyway, Gayetty’s paper came in a package of 500 sheets and sold for .50 cents and his name was printed on every single sheet.

Not sure why he’d want to do that. I mean people are actually dragging your name through…well, you know.

Green Bay, Wisconsin Makes Toilet Paper History

Four years later in 1901, Northern Paper Mills of Green Bay upped the ante to the first ever “sanitary tissue” which they called Northern Tissue. It was made right here in our hometown, and still is to this day! Back then, each pack had 1,000 sheets that were 4 x 10 inches and were pierced with a wire loop so it could hang from a nail.

By 1920, Northern Paper Mills was producing toilet paper on a roll, and had quickly become the world’s largest producer of bath tissue. Since we live up north, we have the helpful advantage of an abundance of wood.

In 1928, Hoberg Paper Company in Green Bay created Charmin toilet paper. They changed their name to Charmin Paper Company in 1950, and the company was bought out by Procter & Gamble in 1957.

Splinter Free Northern Bath Tissue The First Ever ‘Splinter-Free’ Toilet Paper

Here’s where Green Bay struck gold…

Northern Paper was the first to make toilet paper splinter-free in the early 1930’s!

Up until this time, there had been little pieces of wood embedded in the paper.

Oh man, they had it rough (literally).

The next time you talk to your grandparents, you should ask if they remember having an issue with this when they used the outhouse. There are plenty of people alive today that lived through the many phases of toilet paper.

But thanks to the paper mills of Green Bay, we no longer have to worry about getting a sliver in our butt when we wipe…what a relief!

Johnny Carson Joke Causes Toilet Paper Shortage in U.S.Johnny Carson Causes a Toilet Paper Shortage

A funny part about toilet paper history is when America went through a toilet paper shortage because of famous comedian – Johnny Carson.

It sort of happened like the Orson Welles War of the Worlds scare. Carson made a joke on national TV and people took him very seriously. He said,

“You know what’s disappearing from the supermarket shelves? Toilet paper… There’s an acute shortage of toilet paper in the United States.”

By noon the next day, every last roll on store shelves were gone. People started hoarding paper and the demand was too high to keep up with supply.

So, Carson had actually caused a real nation-wide toilet paper shortage that lasted for almost a month. Hilarious!

Watch the actual video clip from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson that caused the shortage…

Current Green Bay Toilet Paper Production Current Paper Production in Green Bay

Today, the Fox River is still a major area for paper production. We have 24 mills producing more than five million tons of paper a year. It’s also gives jobs to just about 50 thousand people in our area.

However, the Fox River has definitely taken a beating from all of this paper making. Paper mills were held responsible for cleaning up the Fox River because they used PCBs in their operations that contaminated the river since the 50’s and 60’s. On a good note, things have really been coming along!

Cleanup of Lower Fox River below the De Pere Dam, (the “hot spot” of contamination), was done in 2008. Things are still continuing to improve in 2013 as cleanup is taking place between the De Pere Dam and the Mason Street Bridge.

The (Environmental Protection Agency’s goal is to remove 575,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment by mid-November 2013. Also this year,  the remnants of the five ships that were found in the river in 2008 will be removed, since they were highly contaminated.

For more details, check out this Update from the Fox River Intergovernmental Partnership’s Spring 2013 Issue.

And take a moment to watch this great Wisconsin Hometown Story by PBS on Green Bay: Tissue Capital of the World. The last couple of minutes covers the Fox River cleanup very well.

Watch Green Bay: Tissue Capital of the World on PBS. See more from Wisconsin Hometown Stories.

I wrote this post in memory of my grandpa John Lemmen who worked at the U.S. Paper Mill for 44 years and loved his job! He would have been 79 years old yesterday… Happy Birthday Gramps!

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  1. from Wendy Johannesburg South Africa. This is a wonderful history and has filled in a lot of what I didn’t know about this essential item. Your writing has helped me in the research I am doing on the origins, properties and different definitions of the word ’tissue’ – woven and pulped (as I’ve found out here). These details are important – even when considering the making or breaking of relationships. I am involved with writing a book titled ‘Tissue’. So thank you very much.

  2. Great memories. I spent my college summers back in the late ’70s as a fifth hand on the paper machine at the Green Bay Packaging mill. Felt very fortunate to have that job, and to work with a great bunch of guys.

  3. Weird but cool

  4. Thanks for such a crappy article! 🙂

  5. check out the Swiss Cheese toilet paper at

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