November 23rd, 2014
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Like most scares, the toilet paper fiasco all started with an unsubstantiated rumor. In November of 1973, several news agencies reported a tissue shortage in Japan. Initially, the release went unnoticed and nobody seemed to put much stock in it — save for one Harold V. Froelich. Froelich, a 41-year-old Republican congressman, presided over a heavily-forested district in Wisconsin and had recently been receiving complaints from constituents about a reduced stream of pulp paper. On November 16th, he released his own press statement — “The Government Printing Office is facing a serious shortage of paper” — to little fanfare.
However, a few weeks later, Froelich uncovered a document that indicated the government’s National Buying Center had fallen far short of securing bids to provide toilet paper for its troops and bureaucrats. On December 11, he issued another, more serious press release:
“The U.S. may face a serious shortage of toilet paper within a few months…we hope we don’t have to ration toilet tissue…a toilet paper shortage is no laughing matter. It is a problem that will potentially touch every American.”
In the climate of shortages, oil scares, and economic duress, Froelich’s claim was absorbed without an iota of doubt, and the media ran wild with it. Wire services, radio hosts, and international correspondents all sensationalized the story; words like “may” and “potentially” were lost in translation, and the shortage was reported as a doomed truth. Television stations aired footage from the Scott Paper Company — one of the ten largest producers in the U.S. — of toilet paper rolls shooting off the production line.
The ground had been set for a consumer panic; all it needed was a spark to ignite it. When Johnny Carson cracked a joke about toilet paper on his television talk show, things got serious. “You know, we’ve got all sorts of shortages these days,” he told 20 million viewers. “But have you heard the latest? I’m not kidding. I saw it in the papers. There’s a shortage of toilet paper!”
Absolute madness ensued. Millions of Americans swarmed grocery outlets and hoarded all the toilet paper they could get their hands on. “I heard it on the news, so I brought 15 extra rolls,” one customer told The New York Times. “For my baby shower,” said another, “I told my party guests to bring toilet paper.” In the chaos, company officers and industry leaders told the public to remain calm; store owners ordered astronomical quantities of toilet paper, and set limits of two rolls per customer. Nobody seemed to play by the rules.