1891 toilet paper patent settles ‘over or under’ debate

WASHINGTON — Few  of life’s questions have been as polarizing as  “over or under?”

The correct orientation of  the end of a toilet paper roll in a bathroom dispenser — on the outside (over),  or behind the roll (under)  — has sparked decades of debate, even within families.

The answer of how the toilet paper is supposed to hang may lie with New York businessman Seth Wheeler, who filed an 1891 patent for the toilet paper roll.

Tech reporter Owen Williams tweeted a picture of the image included in Wheeler’s U.S. Patent and Trademark Office filing, which indicates the answer is “over.”

According to Wheeler’s filing, “My invention consists of a roll of connected sheets of paper for toilet use, said roll having incisions at intervals…with this construction, one sheet may be separated from the next without liability of injury to the sheets.”

While the image included in Wheeler’s filing shows the edge of the toilet paper hanging over the roll, his description doesn’t specify why.

Wheeler’s focus appeared to be neatness, saying his invention “permits of the easy severance of a sheet of paper from a roll, which will be intact and no litter is occasioned by such severance.”


Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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