Columnist

Dave Molter is a freelance writer and Golden Quill and Keystone Press Awards winner. He also is a freelance musician in the Pittsburgh area.

A student of philosophy, I still ponder life’s great unanswered puzzles.

Who killed JFK? Beatles or Stones? Wilma or Betty? Ginger or Mary Ann? Paper or plastic?

I concede that none of these great queries may ever be answered before the sun swells to supernova size and obliterates everyone but Antonio Brown, who last night on Twitter claimed that he not only can run faster than a speeding bullet and leap tall buildings in a single bound, but also that he will never die.

But one dilemma I didn’t list – the cause of innumerable arguments between otherwise perfectly happy married couples – has at last been definitively put to rest.

Rolled toilet paper should be dispensed from the top, not the bottom.

This is not my opinion, but a fact emphatically proved by a bit of simple research. OK, I admit that you’d have to know that modern toilet paper was invented in Albany, N.Y. And that there’s an Albany Institute of History and Art. And that they have archives with plenty of reading material related to toilet paper. And that it’s not all in the restrooms.

I’ll bring you up to speed.

Let’s start with saying that the first recorded use of toilet paper was by Chinese emperors in 1371. How historians discovered this, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was written on a sheet of toilet paper. Or possibly a Post-It note. “Wrapping paper,” as it was then called – to avoid unsavory bathroom humor –was made in individual 2’ by 3’ sheets. Yes, 2 feet by 3 feet. There’s room here for a scathing comment about fat bottoms, but I’ll sit on it.

Paper being a scarce commodity, however, leaves and corncobs were the most usual form of bottom wipers for the common man. After paper became widely available, books, magazines and even newspapers began appearing in outhouses. Their use as reading material in this case was merely incidental.

Joseph Gayetty of Massachusetts invented what is credited as the first packaged, commercially available toilet paper in the United States. “Gayetty’s Medicated Paper” consisted of packages of flat sheets, treated with aloe and watermarked with his name. The world adopted Gayetty’s design until, on Jan. 9, 1891, Seth Wheeler of Albany submitted to the U.S. Patent Office his design for a new variety of wrapping paper.

Patent No. 465,588 describes Wheeler’s radical design for “Toilet-Paper Rolls.”

“My invention consists of a roll of connected sheets of paper for toilet use, said roll having incisions at intervals extending from the side of the web toward the center, but not meeting, and terminating in an angular out, whereby the slight connection left may be separated without injury to the connected sheets.”

He meant the sheets were “perforated,” a word in use since the 15th century. Inventors!

As fascinating as this description may be, here’s the real revelation: Wheeler’s drawing for rolled toilet paper clearly shows the paper being dispensed over the top of the roll. Let me repeat that: over the top of the roll. So we’ve been arguing over something that has been settled for 128 years. Many years ago a friend asked, “Toilet paper! Over or under?”

“Over,” I responded.

“Of course,” he said, rolling his eyes but stopping short of giving me the secret male bathroom handshake. Under was a woman’s thing, he said gravely. Do I need to say that he was married?

Class dismissed.

Oh, by the way: Oswald; Beatles; Betty; Mary Ann; plastic.

Discuss.

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