Only in America

Brian J. Sullivan

Each year it seems that what once was the humble little art fair in the church parking lot has now grown into a gargantuan enterprise complete with fifty different food vendors, three music stages, multiple beer tents, a children's activities area, and corporate sponsors, each with its own booth, all of which are sprinkled in amongst the artists. Claims of over 250,000 people attending are not uncommon. But is bigger really better?

Only in America has bigger become synonymous with "better," culminating in the ultimate status symbol of obnoxious consumerism—the "Hummer." Can it last? Recent opinion polls have begun to show a decline in the popularity of the "Hummer" in favor of a new contender, which promises much more cache. Did someone say toilet paper?

America's first continuous newspaper, "The Boston News-Letter," was published in 1724 under the guidance of John Campbell. Most space was devoted to stories from overseas, and any remaining space listed local shipping times and obituaries. These papers quickly became coveted items, not so much for the news they contained, but for their use on the secondary market, namely in the bathroom. Sometimes as reading material, but more often than not as a much improved form of toilet paper over the leaves of plants formally used. Any outhouse of social standing had a special towel bar like rack in which to hang the old newspapers from. The next 124 years saw little progress in creature comforts. Newspaper was simple, efficient, readily available, and cheap.

Then around 1848, a Frenchman named Le Chaminanaux developed a process to put unprinted paper on a roll. He shortened his name and later became known as the Charmin Company. This revolutionized the bathroom experience and quickly became the standard, albeit more expensive than the lowly newspaper. And he became a millionaire almost over night. By the time the Chicago World's Fair opened in 1893, many companies were vying for a piece of the lucrative market with elaborate advertising displays at the Columbian Exposition. The age of American consumerism was born. Some made colored rolls to match the soft pastel towels currently being used in upscale homes. Others printed cutesy little flowers on each sheet. Still other companies developed different grades of paper; industrial grade, commercial grade, homeowners grade, pampered wife grade, and even baby-so-soft grade. Only in America.

Some companies scented their rolls or sold a spinner that replaced the spring loaded holder. The homeowner could then fill the spinner with different fragrance crystals and upon each turn of the roll would release a burst of scent. For a time there was even a toilet paper dispenser with a built in radio.

One company even created a "double" roll which, as you guess it, was twice the diameter as a regular roll. Only one problem—the roll was too big to fit the standard dispenser, so they sold an adapter which snapped into the regular holder and extended farther out to accommodate the larger roll. But people are hard to change and it never went over very well. Someone even tried to change the shape of the roll by introducing flat sheets like that of Kleenex tissues. But all for naught, people were in love with their rolls.

Another advancement in the development of toilet paper was the "wet toilet paper." A company which shall remain nameless spent hundreds of thousands of dollars doing market research into such a product. They studied demographics, did consumer opinion polls, and spent thousands more with an ad agency to promote the "wet toilet paper." They received a patent for it and began a huge marketing campaign to introduce their product to the masses. Again, another flop; people just love their rolls.

So here it is folks, and remember you heard it from me first, the traveling artist, the ultimate status symbol being installed in most upscale homes: a three tiered toilet paper dispenser rack. Why, you ask? Because the first one is too hard, the second one is too soft, but the third one is just right! I wonder if I could still keep my Hummer if I installed one of these racks behind the back seat?

P.S. And just in case you're wondering (because everyone does), what is the correct way to install a roll of toilet paper on the dispenser? It is with the paper coming off the top, never the bottom. Only in America.