The Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 1973

From The Atlantic:

It started with an unsubstantiated rumor. “You can laugh now,” Johnny Carson said on The Tonight Show on December 19, 1973, “but there is an acute shortage of toilet paper.” There wasn’t—but it didn’t matter. The broadcast sent America into a mass panic. Millions of shoppers swarmed into grocery stores and began hoarding toilet paper. Ex nihilo, a shortage was born. The Scott Paper Company urged people to stop panic-buying the product. Nevertheless, for four months, toilet paper—absent from shelves—was bartered for, traded, and even sold on the black market.

“I was completely blown away by the whole tale,” the filmmaker Brian Gersten told me. His short documentary The Great Toilet Paper Scare, premiering on The Atlantic today, details the frenzy that ensued following Carson’s remarks. “I found newspaper reports from every corner of the U.S. that had firsthand accounts of the chaos,” Gersten said. He excerpted interviews and re-created them with absurdist animation for the film. “These scenes might seem a little hyperbolic,” Gersten said, “but all of this stuff did actually happen, and people actually said those things.”

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