Hamster purchases in 1973: When the toilet paper crisis hit the United States

Hamster purchases in 1973: When the toilet paper crisis hit the United States

Under hashtags such as #Klopapier crisis, #Klopapiergate or even #ToiletPaperApocalypse, people from all over the world are currently posting what may be the strangest excesses of hamster purchases in the wake of the corona crisis: the hoarding of toilet paper that some people do same as car loads buy up to prepare for the pandemic.

Even “Germany’s Next Top Model” star Heidi Klum meanwhile publicly complained the consumption behavior of their fellow human beings (“The toilet paper crisis confirms that we have more A **** holes than we thought”). And the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte scoffed annoyed when visiting a supermarket:

As bizarre as the phenomenon may be, it is not new. As early as 1973, the United States experienced a toilet paper crisis with weeks of hamster purchases and empty shop shelves. Back then, it wasn’t a virus that was to blame – it was a late night show.

In the late evening of December 19, 1973, in the middle of the first oil price crisis, talkmaster Johny Carson stepped in front of the cameras in his popular “Tonight Show” to warn the audience: “Not only gasoline is running out. You know what happens on the supermarket shelves disappears? toilet paper! ” The studio audience burst out laughing, but Carson said, “Now laugh! There is an acute shortage of toilet paper in the United States. We have to stop using it for writing!”

Carson found it difficult to stay serious. Because in fact there was no toilet paper crisis in the USA. Not yet. But the next day there was.

Because millions of Americans apparently believed him – and in panic purchases collected all the toilet rolls that their supermarkets gave away. As a result, many shelves were empty, which had to confirm the impression among other buyers that toilet paper was actually becoming scarce, which again fueled new stock purchases. The aggressive hamsters Lasted for several months: In February 1974, the New York Times wrote about toilet paper shortages in some regions of the United States as a result of “abnormal shopping and hortens.”

In fact, Carson’s gag had a real core – that had become independent. Republican MP from Wisconsin in the US House of Representatives Harold Vernon Froehlich issued a press release on December 11, 1973. In it, he complained that the US government had reserved too little toilet paper for civil servants in the next few months. However, in a rather dramatic tone: “Within months, the United States could face a serious shortage of toilet paper.” He hoped that there would be no rationing, because such a bottleneck was “nothing to laugh about. It’s a problem that will affect every American”.

A chain reaction set in: news agencies, newspapers, radio and television stations passed the news on – and in Johnny Carson’s famous show at the latest it finally reached an audience of millions. The consequences could no longer be caught: Froehlich released an all-clear, Carson apologized for the false report on his show, it didn’t change anything. Representatives of the world’s largest toilet paper manufacturer Scott Paper Company also said on TV that there was no shortage as long as people were shopping normally.

That’s exactly what they didn’t do. The shelves emptied by hamster purchases caused further hamster purchases. In order to break the vicious cycle, retailers rationed this product – and thus only cemented the misconception that toilet paper had become really scarce. The situation only returned to normal after months.

Apopocalypse now

The New York Times consulted marketing researcher Stuart Henderson Britt. And as early as 1974, the professor explained the phenomenon with media change. In the past, false rumors would have taken a long time to spread, Britt said: “Today you only need a television star to joke about it, and the rumor is in all states.”

Since then, the effect has multiplied again, above all through the Internet and social media: instead of just a television studio, news about the #ToiletPaperApocalypse from millions of smartphones goes around the world within seconds.

And yet the current rush on toilet paper in the wake of the corona pandemic is probably not only to be explained by the change in media, but also by fundamental human behavior patterns – if one a psychological study from 2017 follows.

A research group from Singapore examined how experiencing loss of control affects the buying behavior of test subjects. With an astonishing result: Those who concentrated more on the feeling of losing control bought significantly more household products such as cleaning agents and toilet paper. The scientists concluded that the problem-solving properties of these products (such as making them clean) gave buyers a sense of control.

Control – a coveted resource in the current uncertainty caused by the corona crisis. Even more important than toilet paper.

Icon: The mirror

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