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Albany's Modern Toilet Paper Invention

FLUSH was recently in Albany, NY (US), and learned about its fascinating history of bringing modern toilet paper to the world! We wanted to share information about it briefly and are sharing a blog that was originally posted in All Over Albany here (with permission), as they already did a good job detailing what's known out there.

Sam Wheeler's 1891 patent for toilet paper (Credit: Google Patent Database)

Now, I'm not exactly one for toilet humor, but I stumbled upon a fun factoid recently and it was too good to resist. I had to investigate.

And it turns out that, yes, Albany is the birthplace of perforated (rolled) toilet paper as we know it.


toilet paper roll patent imageCity historian Tony Opalka confirmed the rumor. Albany really is the reputed birthplace of TP as we know it today.

Reputed, because there is, of course, some dispute. Before Seth Wheeler of Albany patented his posterior product in 1871, there was already toilet paper in some form or another. But it was usually just individual squares -- often medicated -- and not a roll like we use now.

According to the US patent office, Wheeler patented what was then called perforated wrapping paper ("toilet" was a sensitive word in 1871). He patented the idea to have the product wrapped around a central tube in 1891, and is also often credited with patenting a bracket to hold those tubes.

Some people argue that Scott Paper Company invented the stuff before APW, but for the most part, Wheeler gets first credit. His company, Albany Perforated Wrapping Company, was founded in 1878 in a building on the northwest corner of Montgomery and Colonie Streets in Albany. That building was occupied by Albany Terminal Warehouse after the turn of the century.

According to the 1993 Mt. Ida Press book, Albany Architecture - A Guide to the City, for which Opalka was one of the contributing writers, APW "boasted that it had originated the idea of selling paper in perforated rolls." And yes, says Opalka, that included bathroom tissue.

Check out this Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Co. ad from 1886. Oh, and if you weren't aware, there's actually a virtual museum dedicated to the history of TP.

And adding to our state's history with TP, another New Yorker, Joseph Gayetty of New York City, is typically thought to be the first marketer of a commercially available toilet paper. It was introduced in 1857 and was sold in packages of flat sheets, watermarked with the inventor's name.

No, Albany can't lay claim to patents for some of the advancements in technology, like quilted squares or two-ply or angel-soft or those little imprinted designs. But we were there when it counted with regular old TP on a roll.

Another exemplary example of Capital Region ingenuity. Where would we be without it?

You can commence the jokes now. Let's not get too... cheeky.

FLUSH NOTE: If you're keen to learn more, or see the collection of original rolls, The Albany Museum of History and Art has an online exhibit of 50 objects from Albany, which includes perforated toilet paper.


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