Does the pope have a Facebook page? I can’t find one, so I’m just going to Instagram the Holy See today and hope the Holy Father receives it.

I want to suggest Joseph Gayetty as a nominee for sainthood. I don’t know how that’s done, but I want my vote on the table when the Holy Sainthood Committee opens.

Joseph who, you ask?

You know Thomas Edison lit up your house, and Alexander Graham Bell opened the door for Steve Jobs and his iPhone, Vernon Rudolph created Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, and certainly you remember Chester Greenwood of Farmington, Maine, who invented the earmuff in 1873, at the age of 15. He has enjoyed yearly coverage in the press here in Maine. Now I think Joe Gayetty’s moment has come.

This is what Wikipedia tells us about Joe. Mr. Gayetty is widely credited with being the inventor of modern commercially available toilet paper in the United States.

There it is, in black and white. Gayetty’s tissue was first introduced in 1857, and was available as late as the 1920s. Your great-grandma and gramps probably wiped with it, but were too embarrassed to tell you.


They say Gayetty’s Paper was medicated. We don’t know with what, but I’m sure it wasn’t Lysol or hydroxychloroquine.

It was sold in packages of flat sheets and watermarked with his own name. Imagine, wiping yourself with your own name.

I know you could have looked this up yourself, but I’ve been told that you’re busy measuring out spaces between yourself and your kids, wiping the virus off bottles and cans and vegetables, not to mention that 20-times-a-day handwashing, so I’m giving it to you this morning as a public service.

I know your first question is what did the founding fathers use to wipe themselves in the morning?

We don’t really know. My daughter tells me she watched “Hamilton,” the musical about Alexander Hamilton twice, but there was no mention of toilet paper. We know that George Washington had wooden false teeth, but nothing about his toilet habits.

I’m told that in the 1800s, folks used different materials depending upon the country, weather conditions, social customs and status.


I remember a summer porch discussion with family about who used what, and the subject came up. The women blushed, and the men laughed, but no answers came forth.

As my elders are all gone to the other side, I asked my closest friends and was told that it’s none of my business.

With further research, I found that in the 1800s and earlier, folks used — now get a load of this:

• leaves (didn’t specify autumn colors or just green)

• grass (lettuce pickers and bean farmers didn’t have time to run back to the house when nature called)

• ferns, corncobs (oh, ouch!)


• fruit skins (I’m assuming banana skins)

• seashells (OUCH!)

• stone, sand, moss, snow and water.

The simplest way was physical use of one’s hand (talk about washing one’s hands). Wealthy people (of course) usually used wool, lace or hemp. Hemp? This is a big year for hemp, so don’t waste it by inhaling any.

We’re told that in the sixth century, the first toilet paper was manufactured on a large scale for that particular use, occurring in what is today Zhejiang province in 14th century China. Wouldn’t you know it?

Enough education on that subject. Let’s talk about how this nightmare has had at least one usable side effect: gifts.


Those of you who have had to scratch your head each year coming up with ideas for Christmas gifts can now skip the endless boxes of socks, handkerchiefs, ties, underwear and stationary.

Gift giving this Christmas, if we have one, will be simpler and cleaner — stressing “cleaner.”

J.P. Devine’s “TP tree.” Photo courtesy of J.P. Devine

Family gifts will include gaily wrapped 20-roll packages of toilet paper, bottles of disinfectant, stockings jammed with packs of wipes, Kleenex, boxes of bright blue Nitrile Exam Gloves (you can arrange them as ornaments) and assorted face masks.

I’ve heard that you can buy them now with animal and cartoon faces, and images of your favorite movie and television stars, and political faces.

Yes, I’m making light of a dark world. I am incapable of doing anything else.

A personal coda: Father’s Day is coming. Personalized toilet paper is welcomed.


J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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