The Johnny Carson Toilet Paper Panic of 1973

The Johnny Carson Toilet Paper Panic of 1973

The toilet paper shortage of 2020 wasn’t the world’s experience with lack of toilet paper and the panic surrounding it. In the 1970’s, no one was a stranger to shortages, including the OPEC embargo, the stock market crash, and of course the long lines for gas. In December 1973, Johnny Carson made a joke during his opening monologue of The Tonight Show about an upcoming toilet paper shortage. Carson however, wasn’t the only person to comment on the situation, but he was definitely the most famous. The Johnny Carson Toilet Paper Panic of 1973 will live in infamy.

toilet paper panic 1973

The toilet paper shortage conversation started  In November of 1973, news agencies reported a tissue shortage in Japan. The only person who really made a statement about it was Harold V. Froelich who was a 41-year-old Republican congressman, presided over a heavily-forested district in Wisconsin and had recently been receiving complaints about a reduced stream of pulp paper. On November 16th, he released his own press statement, which received little attention.

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.”

With all the other shortages happened at the time, the media was running wild with speculation about a lack of toilet paper. 

What really ignited the frenzy was Johnny Carson’s monologue. “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!”

 The panic for toilet paper set in. 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. 

 Initially, stores saw empty shelves, as people hoarding, barterting, and doing whatever they could to get their hands on some 2-ply. For long months, toilet paper was a rare commodity. the whole ordeal subsided in February of 1974.