Saturday, May 30, 2009

a night that will live in infamy

The Toilet Paper Shortage of 1973

The entire episode started with a Johnny Carson Tonight Show monologue. Writers for the show had heard that the federal government was falling behind in getting bids to supply its toilet paper requirements and, according to Wisconsin congressman Harold Froehlich, that the country should shortly be facing a shortage of this crucial commodity. Vulgarians, of course they recognized the comedic potential and included the item as a joke for Carson.

On December 19, 1973, Carson used the joke, stating, "You know what's disappearing from the supermarket shelves? Toilet paper. There's an acute shortage of toilet paper in the United States."

Much to the amazement of not only the show but of toilet paper factories across America, 20 million people that watched the Carson show that evening ran out in the morning and bought as much toilet paper as they could carry. 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, Carson explained there was no actual shortage and apologized to his viewers. However, this did not help with the scare. People noticed the empty shelves and the panic increased. It took about three weeks to get the shelves stocked again.

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