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Who invented paper towels?

Oct 19, 2009

We can thank the Scott Paper Company for inventing "Towels You Don't Have to Wash"

We can thank the Scott Paper Company for inventing "Towels You Don't Have to Wash"

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.

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37 Responses to “Who invented paper towels?”

  1. bali accommodation - December 28th, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Well that is a great story. Thanks for your post

  2. Linda - January 14th, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    lol! i never thought to think about who invented it!

  3. Ideas - January 23rd, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    Did they make other things also?

  4. LED Street lighting - February 16th, 2010 at 10:46 am

    That sure is querky! I know that in the old days rich people would use a ducks back instead of toilet paper, who would have thought it. Interesting that an everyday household convience was born the cover up of a coperate blunder.

  5. RTA Cabinets - March 31st, 2010 at 8:37 am

    LOL I guess I always have taken for granted paper towels. I use them so much and never thought about how they were invented. Thanks for sharing this!

  6. Jane - July 15th, 2010 at 1:04 am

    Wow, great post! I learn a lot on toilet paper from your website, thank you! Your site is very profressional, just go on.

  7. Molly - July 15th, 2010 at 5:16 am

    Thanks! Glad that you are enjoying our blog :)

  8. homeschool curriculum - November 21st, 2010 at 8:04 am

    This is certainly one story of how quick thinking and innovation can really turn things around successfully. To be honest, i cannot imagine not having one of these paper tower rolls in my house now!

  9. Dishwasher - November 24th, 2010 at 5:05 am

    No matter who it was, he was a genius! :)

  10. Hotels in Meath - December 8th, 2010 at 7:48 am

    I will forever be in his debt. A indispensable product in today’s world.

  11. Muscle Cars - January 10th, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Did not know that, it has the same kind of story as 3M and the poster note. Long live toilet paper.

  12. Steven - January 12th, 2011 at 7:35 am

    I think for those who invented the paper towel was so fantastic. They have a great idea to invent that type of idea. Thank you.

  13. Ford dealership Austin TX - January 13th, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Haha, what a fun article. Thanks for sharing. I can’t say I ever knew the real history behind it before reading this. Was the ad shown above the first one to be published about paper towels?

  14. Baby Gates - January 17th, 2011 at 5:55 pm


  15. Julia - January 23rd, 2011 at 8:26 pm

    This is certainly one story of how quick thinking and innovation can really turn things around successfully. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Hotel Accommodation Navan - February 11th, 2011 at 6:07 am

    This is one of those things that you dont really take the time to think about where they came from…..great post.

  17. Luxury Hotel Accommodation - March 7th, 2011 at 2:23 am

    I truly cannot imagine what the world would have been like without this wondrous yet simple invention.

  18. Jasmine - March 14th, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    this is amazing i cant wait to use this information for my science project♥♥<3

  19. Molly - March 15th, 2011 at 5:31 am

    Glad we could help with your project! Let us know if you have any further questions about paper towels.

  20. Title Loans - May 6th, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Signs that our teachers are really underpaid. I mean, they’ve made paper companies very, very rich. That’s really interesting that it just started as a mishap.

  21. toilet - May 11th, 2011 at 2:35 pm


  22. Homeschooling - May 12th, 2011 at 9:53 am

    HA! Just seeing how many paper towels we go through at our house, I’d love to go back in time and buy stock!

  23. Toyota Lease Return Los Angeles - May 18th, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Wow! I guess it goes to show that sometimes great ideas can come by accident. I’m sure they’re happy they found another use for it instead of having to send it all back.

  24. Britax - May 19th, 2011 at 3:00 am

    Interesting story, this invention is very simple but now this product will use by almost everyone. Nice article.

  25. Conveyor Systems - May 19th, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    That’s why teachers are so important in society and taken advantage of. They’re the ones with all the inventions.

  26. Car Title Loans - June 30th, 2011 at 11:59 am

    And why are teachers underpaid? They’re the geniuses behind everything!

  27. School Supplies - July 7th, 2011 at 7:52 am

    I can’t believe that it took until 1931 to figure out to have a separate towel for wiping your rear and another for wiping your nose! Go teachers, you are under appreciated!

  28. Auto Lease Los Angeles - October 24th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

    Love the paper towel! Thank you Scott!

  29. Happy Paper Towel Thursday! Discounts on Bulk Hand Towels - October 27th, 2011 at 6:06 am

    […] towels have an interesting history. Read about the invention of paper towels, towels your don’t have to wash, on our blog. Share this nice […]

  30. Sean M - February 1st, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    this answer is incredible. i never thought that paper towels wre made because of a fluke. thxs

  31. Paper Towel Coupon Site - May 26th, 2012 at 11:28 am

    Very cool! I did not know that’s how paper towels were invented. I can’t same I’m surprised though. Lots of things have come about because of mistakes that turned out to be beneficial. Thanks for sharing this story!

  32. Katy Wintey - December 3rd, 2012 at 5:19 pm

    This site is such a thumbs up :)

  33. Suzy Kantupe - December 3rd, 2012 at 8:54 pm

    This is great information. I needed this for a science fair project(trust me I won’t copy this down. That’d be cheeting. Don’t worry!!!). This is very useful information and I reccomend for people to use this website for unknown facts;)So what was the inventor’s name;)

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