Oct 19, 2009
While it may seem like a rudimentary question, the answer is quite interesting. Paper towels were invented thanks to a incorrect shipment, a school teacher’s unique approach to fighting her students’ colds, and a man full of innovative ideas.
It all started when a delivery to the Scott Paper Company was incorrect – the paper shipment (a whole railroad car full of it!) was too thick to use for toilet paper. Arthur Scott, in charge of the company at the time, was faced with a serious dilemna – send the paper back or find an alternative use for it.
Meanwhile, a teacher in the Philadelphia School District knew her students were exchanging unnecessary germs every time they went to get toilet paper to blow their nose. To help eliminate this problem, she started giving them soft paper so they wouldn’t have to keep touching the roller towel in the toilets.
Scott had learned about this situation prior to the deliver of the too-thick paper and saw the defect paper as a chance to market a product similar to the teacher’s solution. He sold the paper as small, perforated towel-sized like sheets, calling them disposable paper towels. The product was such a success, Scott was soon selling his invention (renamed as the “Sani-Towel”, short for the Sanitary Towel) to restaurants, hotels, and railroad stations for their public bathrooms.
Later, in 1931, Scott saw an expanded use for his Sani-Towel in the kitchen, so he officially introduced the world’s first “paper towels” – a sheet a perforated, soft paper, on a roll in sheets of 13” x 8”.
And while we can’t imagine our life today without this essential household product, it surprisingly took a while before the generation popular took a liking to paper towels. People had a hard time grasping the concept of “Towels you don’t have to wash”.
So there you have it – a railroad car, a school teacher, and a true innovator led to the invention of paper towels in 1931.