Toilet paper in the USSR: from rarity to scarcity

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Toilet paper in the USSR: from rarity to scarcity

The USSR was a country of grandiose plans and great achievements, but everyday amenities and simple human needs were often forgotten. The Soviet people won the war, restored the country from ruins and flew into space, but in the middle of the 20th century there was still no such elementary thing as toilet paper in their homes. We are talking about when this hygiene item began to be produced in the Soviet Union, and why it was not in demand at first, and later became a big deficit.

Prehistory: from China to America

China is considered the birthplace of toilet paper, as well as paper in general: the first mention of this blessing of civilization dates back to the 6th century. Mass production began in the 14th century, when 720 thousand sheets of toilet paper measuring 60 by 90 cm were produced for the needs of the imperial court alone. Meanwhile, in medieval Europe, hay, straw and grass were still used, and the most prosperous were pieces of linen or silk fabrics. And only by the middle of the 18th century did paper come into use – as a rule, these were old newspapers. In the United States at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Old Farmer's Almanac newspaper was popular: it was issued with special perforations, so that after reading it was convenient to use as a means of hygiene.

Toilet paper as such was patented only in the middle of the 19th century: in 1857, an entrepreneur from New York, Joseph Gayetti, launched its production on an industrial scale. Leaflets called pipifax were packed in packs, each with the manufacturer's name printed on it. A little later, in the 1880s, Englishman James Alcock invented toilet paper in rolls. His shy compatriots shyly called the novelty paper curlers – and were in no hurry to buy. One of the first Soviet citizens who got acquainted with toilet paper was Vladimir Mayakovsky, who visited Paris in the late 1920s. He even mentions this product in the poem “Parisian”, the heroine of which was a lady who worked in the toilet of one of the restaurants:

“While you look at the pimple at the dressing table,
she, smiling at her flaky mouth,
powder it, sprinkle it with perfume, give pipifax and wipe the puddle.”

Made in USSR

Toilet paper conquered the country of victorious socialism relatively recently, only in the second half of the 20th century. For a long time, it could be seen only in the apartments of diplomats, high-ranking officials, scientists and writers: mostly paper was brought from abroad. Small batches were produced at a plant in the Lithuanian city of Grigishkes, but there was not enough of it for everyone, and ordinary citizens used newspapers cut into pieces. Portraits of party leaders and communist slogans were cut out of Pravda or Izvestia before being used for their intended purpose – so to speak, in order to avoid: careless use of newspaper pages could result in severe punishment.

The first industrial enterprises that made tissue paper appeared in the USSR in the early 1960s. in the Leningrad and Arkhangelsk regions. The volumes were very modest: for example, in 1962, about 4,000 tons of such products were produced – 1,000 times less than in the USA.

And only in 1969 did the space power master the mass production of toilet paper.

It was made from spruce and aspen wood, and the main supplier was the Syas Pulp and Paper Mill: English Walmsley paper machines were installed here and more than 30 million rolls were produced in the first year.

At first, the new product was gathering dust on store shelves: no one understood why it was needed when there were familiar newspapers. To introduce toilet paper into Soviet life, a large-scale advertising campaign had to be launched. Film magazines about the benefits of these hygiene products were shown in cinemas before films, and thousands of rolls were given to managers of large enterprises to distribute to workers. ://fs.tonkosti.ru/sized/f550x700/47/nx/47nx2m6vfp2c808kws8s4wogw.jpg” media=”(max-width: 549px)”>

Toilet paper in the USSR: from rarity to scarcity

The Scarcity Symbol

Advertising proved to be effective, and already in the mid-70s, buying toilet paper was as difficult as buying beautiful clothes, quality shoes, and other consumer goods. To purchase paper rolls (no more than 10 pieces in one hand), I had to stand in lines for hours. For convenience, happy customers hung bundles of toilet paper around their necks like beads.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko described a typical picture of those years in the poem “Antediluvianism”:

“This woman walked past the Execution Ground, Pozharsky and Minin,
and carried rolls of toilet paper – at least twenty pieces,
and she carried it not in her hands, but, pulling a string around her neck…

These are the necklaces that are now in Rus'!”

Enterprises increased their capacities, but could not cope with the growing demand. One of the reasons was a peculiar approach to equipping factories with machinery: when purchasing imported equipment for making paper from wood, managers for some reason ignored machines for cutting and packaging products. It had to be cut into rolls on self-made machines, and much went to waste: for example, the line in Syasstroy, designed for 60 million rolls a year, produced three times less. Later, production volumes were brought up to 66 million rolls, but the population of the country exceeded 250 million people, and there was still not enough paper. The shortage of this elementary accessory gave rise to many anecdotes, for example, this one: “Tell me, please, where did you get toilet paper? “I’m bringing it from the dry cleaners.”

It was only after the collapse of the USSR that the market economy put everything in its place, and now more than 3 billion rolls of toilet paper are produced in Russia annually.

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