Perforated Toilet Paper

On July 25, 1871, the United States Patent Office issued Albany businessman and inventor Seth Wheeler a patent for his improvement in wrapping papers. His simple but novel idea consisted of a “roll of wrapping-paper with perforations on the line of the division between one sheet and the next, so as to be easily torn apart.” The invention revolutionized not only the appearance and dissemination of wrapping paper, but also toilet paper, which became the most important product of Wheeler’s company, the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company (later known as APW), incorporated in 1877. Before the development of perforated rolled papers, manufacturers manually cut their paper into sheets, bundled and wrapped them in more paper, and tied the bundles with string.

Over several decades, Wheeler received nearly a hundred patents in the United States, Canada, and Europe for both machinery and new developments with paper products, including several for improvements with perforations. APW also produced cabinets and fixtures for dispensing their rolled papers and it manufactured a medicated paper “heavily charged with ointment approved by the profession,” which by the 1880s received glowing testimonials from across the country. According to a history of the company published in 1886, “their specialty is hotel paper with fixture,” indicating a broader market than just home consumers.

When Seth Wheeler died in 1925, APW was a flourishing company with headquarters on Broadway in Albany. The rolls shown here with their original bright pink wrappers date to the 1930s and were designed by a German-born graphic designer named Hajo Christoph who updated APW’s packaging with bold, Art Deco styling.


Magnifying Glass
Rolls of Perforated Toilet Paper
Made by Albany Perforated Wrapping Company (APW), Albany, New York
Wrapper designed by Hajo Christoph
c. 1935
Paper, ink
Courtesy of Stewart Wagner
Magnifying Glass
A.P.W. Brand Poster
Designed by G. H. Dunston
Unidentified printer
c. 1900
Chromolithograph on paper
Albany Institute of History & Art Library, PB 281