The Truth About Hawaii's Toilet Paper Crisis Of 1971

Everyone and their dog has been telling jokes about the recent trend of hoarding toilet paper like every single facility capable of manufacturing the stuff has been converted into a laxative factory overnight. However, this is not the first time in history this particular commodity has been causing problems. As Gillian Brockell of the Washington Post tells us, the people of Hawaii got the dubious honor of experiencing a serious toilet paper shortage in 1971, when the International Longshore and Warehouse Union arranged a strike that shut down each and every dock on the West Coast. This cut Hawaii off their supply of things like rice, salt — and, as it happens, toilet paper. 

We're not talking just one or two missed shipments, here. The situation lasted for months, and as the harsh potential of paperless toilet visits started dawning on people, things got so strange that our contemporary, temporary toilet paper shortages seem downright quaint in comparison. 

Rollin' with the times

Are you familiar with the concept of "poop managers?" The Hawaiians who lived through the 1971 toilet paper roll shortage are. When people started stealing rolls from bars, the managers reportedly had to move their toilet paper supply behind the counter, and the poor person with the aforementioned title was tasked with rationing the paper for the customers who visited the facilities. (They received six squares per visit, in case you're curious.) Public toilets also suffered from paper theft, and as a result, started having their own security guards.

As the shortage progressed, toilet paper stopped being a slightly shameful necessity and became an outright status item. Radio contests gave out TP rolls as prizes. According to a New York Times article from the era, one heiress even received a couple of rolls as a housewarming present. There was even an incident where the Mayor of Honolulu himself creeped out in the middle of the night to get a case of toilet paper and some rice from a local store manager in exchange of fixing some pot holes that had been bothering the guy.

Eventually, things got back to normal. However, the Hawaiians seem to have long memories when it comes to toilet paper, seeing as a potential strike in 1999 and a "dock worker lockout" in 2002 both caused people to run to the stores.