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‘Inventor’ of toilet paper weighs in on ‘over vs. under’ debate via 1891 patent

early toilet paper patent seen as evidence in over vs under debate tp
Image used with permission by copyright holder
A couple years ago, the creator of the GIF, Steve Wilhite, declared his creation is pronounced with a soft “G,” as in jif. It will still be a cold day in hell before many of us let go of the hard “G,” but we suppose it’s only right to take an inventor’s intentions into consideration.

At least, that seems to be the thinking in regard to a picture that recently surfaced on Twitter, thanks to Next Web writer Owen Williams. The so-called “inventor” of toilet paper (though it actually dates back to the fifth or sixth century China) seems to come down hard on the debate over which is the correct way to hang TP over the roll. The drawing comes from a century-old patent titled “Wrapping or toilet paper roll,” filed by inventor Seth Wheeler in 1891.

“Be it known that I, SETH WHEELER, of the city and county of Albany, and State of New York, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Wrapping or Toilet Paper Rolls; and I do hereby declare that the following is a full, clear, and exact description thereof, reference being had to the accompanying drawings, forming a part of this specification,” he writes in the patent.

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Those accompanying drawings do clearly illustrate six different figures, all with the paper hanging over the roll. Since Wheeler was awarded the first patent for TP, the argument seems to be that he should have the final say over how to hang toilet paper.

Toilet Paper Patent 1894However, like many people who have never considered the question of over versus under, Wheeler may not have actually had a definitive stance on the subject. His 1894 patent for a roll of toilet paper “composed of a plurality of individual rolls united so as to revolve simultaneously” clearly shows three rolls all in the “under” configuration.

“It is arrogant to pretend that from our vantage we can gauge accurately the intent of the framers on application of principle to specific, contemporary questions,” former Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr. once said. Yes, he was talking about the Constitution, but perhaps there’s a lesson here for modern-day arguments about toilet paper, too.

Jenny McGrath
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Jenny McGrath is a senior writer at Digital Trends covering the intersection of tech and the arts and the environment. Before…
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