Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • You wake up and stumble to the bathroom to take care of your morning business.

  • You're still half asleep when you finish and grope around for the toilet paper - only

  • to have your hand close on an empty roll!

  • You're wide awake now as a moment of panic ensues.

  • Even as your brain scrambles for a solution to your immediate predicament, a part of you

  • is wondering - what on earth did people do before toilet paper?

  • Toilet paper is currently a billion-dollar industry in the United States alone.

  • The average American uses fifty-seven squares of toilet paper per day, which adds up to

  • a staggering fifty pounds of toilet paper per year!

  • But toilet paper as we know it has only been around for about a hundred-and-fifty years.

  • So, what did people do before toilet paper?

  • In his book Poop Culture, Dave Praeger, who runs the popular website PoopReport.com, says:

  • The experience of needing to poop, of pooping and of having pooped is universal.”

  • Using the bathroom is truly a universal human experience, but our particular bathroom habits

  • have certainly changed throughout history, and even vary widely across the world today!

  • For most of human history, when it came to toilet paper people used whatever was handy

  • - leaves, sticks, rocks and yes, even hands!

  • Prehistoric tribal people didn't even have designated bathroom areas, although they would

  • generally do their business away from their sleeping and eating areas.

  • Some cultures even considered bathroom time to be a communal activity, and it was common

  • to socialize and chat with your friends while you did your business.

  • Imagine you're a prehistoric Native American tribesperson, waking up in your longhouse

  • surrounded by your family.

  • You climb out of your bed of furs on your sleeping platform and make your way past the

  • other longhouses and through the village.

  • You head to a particular area of the nearby field where you settle into a comfortable

  • squat and proceed to do your thing.

  • When you're done, you look around you for something to use to clean up.

  • After considering some twigs, a few leaves and some small stones, you finally settle

  • on a handful of dried grass to get the job done, before you head off to face the rest

  • of your day.

  • If you were a member of a different prehistoric tribe living in a more tropical climate, your

  • morning routine would look remarkably similar to your North American counterpart.

  • You wake up and find a suitable place to pop a squat, and then you use whatever is available

  • to clean up.

  • Your particular choice of clean-up materials might be a bit different though, reflecting

  • your tropical environment.

  • Instead of dried grass and stones you might consider using native leaves, coconut shards

  • or even seashells to get the job done.

  • If you woke up among the ancient peoples of the Middle East and Indian subcontinent, you'd

  • find that they had a totally different tactic for dealing with a lack of toilet paper - they

  • skipped it all together!

  • Waking up in your tent, you feel the call of nature.

  • You walk down to the river near your encampment, position yourself over the edge, and do your

  • thing.

  • When you're done, you use water from the river and your left hand to clean yourself

  • up - your right hand is your eating hand, so it's important not to get them mixed

  • up!

  • Finally, you'd gather your water for the day - from the same river that you just did

  • your business in - and carry on with your day.

  • If you lived in a city in China around the first century A.D., you might almost feel

  • right at home!

  • After waking up you stumble over the matong, orhorse bucket”, which was a large wooden

  • bucket filled with water.

  • You squat over the bucket and take care of business, and when you're ready to clean

  • up, you find a sight for sore eyes - toilet paper!

  • The Chinese not only invented paper, period, but they were the first to use paper as bathroom

  • material.

  • The practice was common there for centuries, but it wouldn't make its way to the rest

  • of the world for another sixteen-hundred years.

  • In the first centuries A.D., the Chinese empire was manufacturing almost a million sheets

  • of ancient toilet paper per year.

  • These two-foot by three-foot sheets were made from a bamboo pulp, and toilet paper for wealthy

  • and important families would often be perfumed.

  • The Emperor Hungwu's family alone would use fifteen-thousand of the two-foot by three-foot

  • paper sheets per year.

  • The rural Chinese farmers of the day may not have had access to the luxury of toilet paper,

  • but they had their own method of dealing with toilet waste.

  • As a rural Chinese farmer, you wake up, head outside and make your way over to the pigpen.

  • You settle into a squat over a hole dug in the earth nearby.

  • After you've relieved yourself, yourwastetravels down a tunnel and into the nearby

  • pigsty for the pigs to eat.

  • This practice was so common that the Chinese character forpigcan be found in the

  • Chinese word fortoilet”.

  • If instead you found yourself waking up during the Nara period in ancient Japan, you'd

  • be facing an entirely different set of toilet practices.

  • As a government official living in Heijokyu Palace, the political centre of Japan during

  • the Nara period, you wake up and make your way to the latrine for your morning ritual.

  • Once done, you would use a flat stick called a chügi that looks a bit like a popsicle

  • stick to scrape yourareafrom left to right.

  • If that seems weird, just imagine waking up in ancient Greece.

  • After waking up in your home in the city, you make your way down the street to the public

  • latrine.

  • You take a seat at one of the many holes in the stone bench and make small talk with your

  • neighbours while you do your business.

  • But, instead of using a smooth wooden stick to clean up, you use broken shards of pottery

  • to scrape yourself clean.

  • Since you're still holding a grudge against one of your neighbours, you take a moment

  • to inscribe his name on the shards first.

  • The ancient Romans had a gentler method for dealing with toilet hygiene, although their

  • bathroom practices still left a lot to be desired.

  • In the morning you make your way down the street to the public latrine to relieve yourself.

  • After doing your business - and catching up on local gossip, of course - you use a sea

  • sponge tied to string to clean yourself up.

  • You're careful to give the sponge a courtesy rinse for the next person before placing it

  • in a bucket of vinegar or salt water to be disinfected...or that was the idea anyways

  • Things only got marginally better later in history.

  • In England during Shakespearean times, most homes had their own bathroom facilities, so

  • business was at least indoors, if not private or much more hygenic.

  • When you wake up in your London home, you lay in bed for a minute trying to decide whether

  • to get up and head to the latrine, which is a large room that contains a bench with a

  • hole in it placed over a bucket.

  • You also store all of your clothing in the latrine so that the strong smell of urine

  • can ward off disease.

  • You decide you're too lazy to get out of bed just yet, so do your business in the chamber

  • pot you keep under your bed and fall back asleep.

  • You don't even hear your servant come in to empty the chamber pot - but you definitely

  • hear the shouts from the unsuspecting pedestrians who happened to be walking by when she dumped

  • the contents out of the second story window!

  • If you were lucky enough to be a noble person living in a medieval castle around this time,

  • you would use the most advanced toilet technology of the day.

  • The latrines in the higher floors where the king and other nobles lived were large rooms

  • with stone benches with holes in them, but the rooms were built out over the edge of

  • the castle's walls, so that the waste would fall down the side of the castle and you wouldn't

  • have to worry about removing it yourself.

  • Needless to say, castle life didn't smell very pleasant!

  • If you were one of the pioneer farmers who settled America, morning would mean a trip

  • to the outhouse, a small wooden shed behind your farmhouse containing a bench over a hole

  • dug in the ground.

  • After enjoying some peace and quiet in the outhouse and taking care of your business,

  • you use a corn cob to clean things up.

  • Yepp, that's right, corn cob.

  • Corn was a mainstay crop for early American farmers, and they would save the husks and

  • cobs for bathroom time.

  • Once the kernels were removed, the bare cob was the perfect shape and texture to provide

  • a thorough cleaning.

  • In fact, corn cobs were so popular that many farmers preferred to use corn cobs even once

  • modern toilet paper was readily available.

  • Speaking of modern toilet paper, you can thank Sears for the toilet paper you know and love

  • today.

  • You wake up on your farm in the late nineteenth century and make your way to the outhouse

  • for your morning routine, the same way your family has been doing for nearly a century.

  • But, instead of corn husks, you use the Sears catalog to clean up.

  • The Sears catalog was a mail-order catalogue that was delivered for free to every American

  • home.

  • The Sears people knew what was going on with their catalogues - it even came with a hole

  • punched through it so you could conveniently hang it in your outhouse!

  • Is this the beginning of bathroom reading?

  • By 1857, your trip to the outhouse might have evolved beyond old catalogues.

  • You wake up in a stately home in a major city.

  • You still need to go outside to the outhouse, but your morning routine now includes the

  • latest toilet product - “medicated paper”, as it was called, is a hemp-based paper product

  • infused with aloe.

  • These sheets resemble tissues more than today's toilet paper, but they are a big step up from

  • corn cobs and catalogues!

  • It's not until 1890 that you'd finally find some toilet paper that resembles what

  • you're used to today.

  • The Scott brothers were the first to put toilet paper on a roll, but they were too embarrassed

  • to put their name on the product - or even admit that they had created it! - until many

  • years later.

  • The general public was extremely embarrassed by bodily functions, and it was considered

  • taboo to talk about them.

  • Buying toilet paper from the drug store was an embarrassing errand, and druggists would

  • be careful to wrap the package in paper so that no one would know what you were buying.

  • Toilet paper companies poured millions into marketing campaigns designed to change the

  • public perception of bodily functions and, by extension, toilet paper.

  • The advent of indoor toilets also helped push toilet paper into the mainstream - and led

  • to the modern trend of soft toilet paper.

  • You wake up in a new housing development in the early nineteen hundreds.

  • You are one of the first of your friends to have a new indoor flush toilet - no more morning

  • trips outside!

  • You also have the softest, gentlest toilet paper so far in history.

  • This isn't about your comfort, though - it's about making sure all this paper will dissolve

  • in the new sewer systems!

  • Toilet paper may be ubiquitous now, but in any parts of the world, water is actually

  • still the most common way to clean yourself after doing your business.

  • This trend may even become more popular around the world as the cost of producing toilet

  • paper continues to rise, and people reevaluate their use of resources like trees and water.

  • Bidets are already the norm in places like Japan, India and the Middle East.

  • In some countries, the hand-and-water method is even still popular.

  • This may seem strange to those of us who are used to flush toilets and toilet paper, but

  • studies show that these water-based practices might actually be more hygienic.

  • Back in the comfort and luxury of your modern-day bathroom, you thankfully find an extra roll

  • of toilet paper under the sink, clean yourself up and get on with your day.

  • But in the back of your mind, you're still thinking about what they did before toilet

  • paper - and thanking your lucky stars that you live in 2020!

  • So, what do you think about what people did before toilet paper?

  • What about some of the other methods used around the world?

  • What would you do if you couldn't use toilet paper again?

  • Be sure and let us know your thoughts on life before toilet paper in the comments!

  • If this video got you curious about how people lived in the past, you'll want to check

  • out this video, called What A Day In The Life of A Neanderthal Was Like.

  • It will make a lack of toilet paper seem like a walk in the park!

  • Or perhaps you'd prefer this other video instead- either way, we guarantee our content's

  • not a total flush, so click now!

You wake up and stumble to the bathroom to take care of your morning business.

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 toilet paper toilet paper bathroom clean corn

What Did They Do Before Toilet Paper?

  • 4 0
    Summer posted on 2020/07/30
Video vocabulary