Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Toilet Paper Shortage of 1973

Sometime in 1975 or so, I remember going to my grandparents house and seeing so much toilet paper in a closet in the spare bedroom. There were rolls and rolls of one type of toilet paper. Years later, I saw less and less of the toilet paper, and I just assumed they got a great deal on TP.

Until today.

I was fairly young in the early 70s, so I don't know what was going on politically. Nixon tapes? Had not a clue? The stock market stagnation? Had nothing to do with my drowsy doll.

I sort of remember the gas crunch in the late 70s, when we would all pile in the car on different days and sit in line for gasoline. But I did not really understand what was going on.

There was a toilet paper shortage in the United States in 1973.No, I did not say Russia. The good ol'
U S of A.

This toiler paper shortage started with a Johnny Carson Tonight Show monologue. On December 19, 1973, the writers for the show had heard earlier the federal government was falling behind in getting bids to supply toilet paper and that it might be possible that in a few months the United States could face a shortage of toilet tissue. They took the words of this Wisconsin congressional representative, Harold Froehlich and decided to add a joke for Carson for the evening show.

Carson did in fact use the joke in a monologue stating, "You know what's disappearing from the supermarket shelves? Toilet paper. There's an acute shortage of toilet paper in the United States."

Twenty million people that watched the Carson show that evening ran out in the morning and bought as much toilet paper as they could carry. My grandparents must have been among those who started hording the stuff (thus their very large supply of toilet paper for many years). By noon on December 20, 1973, practically every store in America was out of stock. Many of the stores tried to ration this valuable paper but they could not keep up with the demand no matter what they did.

A few nights later, Johnny Carson explained there was no shortage and he apologized to his viewers. However, this did not help with the scare. As soon as people noticed the empty shelves, they wanted this paper even more. It took three weeks to get the shelves stocked again, ending the shortage caused by a joke in Johnny Carson's monolog.

13 comments:

brown eyed girl said...

LOL that is so cute, I had no idea this had ever happened! I wonder if my parents have any stories related to this because I know they used to watch his show back in the day!

Xmichra said...

omg, that is nuts!!

Under the Influence said...

I was not aware this happened either. I was six, but don't remember it. I think this is maybe where Sams Club and Costco got their big idea to start selling in bulk!

Deb said...

My question to you is: can you spare a square???

This is the same crap that happened with the millennium scare. You know how many canned goods and bottled water was purchased?

Unreal.

Tim said...

We are like lemmings walking off a cliff.

Ian Lidster said...

You've made me feel ancient, Leesa. I remember that Carson fake scare very clearly. And then thought, oh well, there's no TP famine in Canada so we're OK.

Malach the Merciless said...

I hate toilet paper, I invest in wipes!

Leesa said...

Brown Eyed Girl: Thanks.

Xmichra: Nuts but true.

Under the Influence: Supply chains have changed so much in the last 30 years.

Deb: Can you imagine if we really did have another scare? Public restrooms would get ransacked first, I imagine.

Tim: Lemmings? Sort of like stock brokers.

Ian: Again, I don't remember it, but I think some of my memories involved this and I did not even know it.

Malach: Wipes? You must be young.

Gnightgirl said...

I absolutely remember that toilet paper shortage; I was 10 years old, and my mother fell for it completely. It probably wouldn't have made an impact on me except for being in the room when she lamented to my Grandmothat that she was trying to come up with TP substitues, including saving newspaper. It was probably my Grandmother's screaming with laughter at Mom that made such an impact in my mind.

Leesa said...

gnightgirl: Funny!

sallytea said...

There was a lttle more to the TP shortage. I was in my early twenties at the time. Toilet paper quickly diappeared from gas station restrooms and gas station owners were slow to bring it back because they didn't like getting ripped off. So everybody started carrying toilet paper around with them in their cars. Even 2 or 3 years later many people still had a roll of toilet paper in their car "just in case".

greatscott! said...

I managed a large supermarket in Detroit in my early 20's. I remember it well.
People would wait for our semis to arrive with more stock. Unfortunately for them, our warehouse wouldn't send any. They were out too(over 100 stores).
It went on for more than a month and made for a great holiday season.
Rolls made great gifts..

Anonymous said...

I remember it, but as i recall, we had enough TP at home from our previous normal purchase, but there was a lot of talk about whether it was real and that even if it was not, it was becoming so because of a self-perpetuating cycle. Some of us thought it irrational to react to it and to stock-pile, while others wanted to stockpile just in case. Many of us -- all of us? -- found it absurd.

Not having a car, I was much more impressed by the TP shortage (and whether it would continue and grow etc.) than about a gas shortage I only reada about in the paper or heard about on the radio (my usual bike routes didn't happen to take me near gas stations, so I think I only saw one line and actually asked why the people were lined up -- was there a sale on or somethimg? So even today, looking back, the gas shortage is only a vague notion to me.