Toilet Paper Patent

The Toilet Paper Patent Answers The Age Old Question

January 13, 2023


There are a number of questions, some as old as time, that we still don’t know the answer to.

  • “Why did the chicken cross the road”?
  • “What came first, the chicken or the egg”?
  • “Is a hot dog a sandwich?”
  • “Should a toilet paper roll face over or under when on the holder?

While these questions may never be definitively answered, one of these contested questions has always had an answer looming in the background. The question being “should a toilet paper roll face over or under when on the holder?” People have their reasons and explanations for both, but there certainly is an answer to the question. The answer was presented in the original patent for the toilet paper roll.

The Toilet Paper Patent

It turns out that the original idea for perforated toilet paper was patented in 1871 as patent number US117355A. Seth Wheeler was credited with the invention and later assigned the rights to the patent to the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company. However, the roll style toilet paper that we all buy was a re-patented innovation to the original. It was granted on September 15, 1891 as patent number US456516A, with credit again to Seth Wheeler, and rights again to the Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company. An immediate improvement filed by Seth Wheeler, which was granted on December 22, 1891, as patent number US465588A.

In Wheeler’s improved patent for toilet paper he described the idea of perforated toilet paper on a roll. In the words of the patent the sheets are “partially separated, having their points of attachment arranged in a novel manner, whereby each sheet will easily Separate from the series as it is drawn from the roll, there being no litter occasioned, and any Waste of paper is thereby prevented.”

Wheeler then went on to illustrate his concept, including how it was to be used. The drawings describe “a view of [the] improved roll suspended on the simplest form of fixture”. Although Wheeler didn’t verbally describe the intended direction of the roll in the language of the patent, the images of the patent fill in the blanks. After all a picture is worth a thousand words. It’s for that reason why a patent application requires detailed drawings that depict the invention. Below is a snapshot of Wheeler’s drawings from his improved patent.

As these drawings depict, every rendition that illustrates the proposed use of the roll (in “simplest form” I might add) shows the roll facing out. Figure 1 specifically shows the roll on a toilet paper holder, still facing outward. Thus, this means the answer to the contested question of “should a toilet paper roll face over or under when on the holder?” is answered. The answer is it should face OVER.


You might still disagree, but there is no better source of proof than the intent of the inventor. Perhaps you have the next great idea that half of society will one day use improperly. Our Intellectual Property team at SW&L Attorneys is here to help you with your idea and discuss the patentability requirements and process involved in an application. Then you too can help answer the age old question surrounding your idea. To get in touch with us, call 701-297-2890, or email us at:

This article is for informational purposes only and is subject to our disclaimer.