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Rumors Fuel the 'Toilet Paper Scare' of 1973

For most Americans, 1973 was marred by shortages. After the stock market crashed and lost 45 percent of its value, there were shortages of oil, gasoline, electricity, and even onions. The U.S. spiraled into a period of economic stagnation and a "shortage psychology." Then, right in the midst of this economic turmoil, a toilet paper scare ignited a communal panic attack.

It all started with unsubstantiated rumors. In November of 1973, news agencies reported a tissue shortage in Japan. Then a U.S. Congressman issued a press release stating, "The U.S. may face a serious shortage of toilet paper within a few months … a toilet paper shortage is no laughing matter. It is a problem that will potentially touch every American."

The media ran wild and sensationalized the story. Then Johnny Carson, the host of the Tonight Show, joked in his monologue, "You know we've got all sorts of shortages these days. But have you heard the latest? I'm not kidding. I saw it in the papers. There's a shortage of toilet paper!" Millions of Americans swarmed grocery outlets and hoarded all the toilet paper they could get. People told their friends to bring their own toilet paper to baby showers. Merchandisers struggled to re-stock supplies. For four months, toilet paper was a rare commodity. It was bartered and traded, and a black market even emerged. Slowly, Americans realized that there had never been a shortage. It had been artificially created by gossip, rumors, and a cultural frenzy.

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