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bathroom-tissue

Madison Museum of Bathroom Tissue

In its day, the Madison Museum of Bathroom Tissue, established in 1992, was the largest and arguably most important bathroom tissue museum in the world. Before closing in 2000, "the MMBT" was located at 305 N. Hamilton in Madison, Wisconsin, USA, in a second-floor apartment three blocks from the state capitol. Besides its impressive collection of toilet paper from across the country and around the world, the museum featured an audio tour and informative displays detailing the history of toilet paper.

The collection

The MMBT's permanent collection contained approximately 3,000 rolls of toilet paper at its peak. The toilet paper's origins ranged from the bathrooms of other museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim, to American tourist destinations like Wall Drug and Graceland. The museum also boasted extensive holdings of European, African, Australian, Canadian, and Mexican toilet paper as well as an encyclopedic collection of toilet paper from bars and restaurants located in Madison. The Manufacturers Wing contained a relatively small but interesting collection of retail samples donated by toilet paper manufacturers, many with headquarters in Wisconsin's Fox River Valley paper-producing area. Kimberly-Clark, which makes Cottonelle bathroom tissue, was one such contributor.

Contributions

Visitors to the museum were always encouraged to collect toilet paper during their own travels and donate it to the museum. Sometimes specific donations were sought, to expand particular museum collections such as “Ode To Our Mothers,” a display which boasted toilet paper taken from museumgoers’ mothers’ bathrooms. When the staff realized it had every contiguous U.S. state represented except for North Dakota, it went to the airwaves on North Dakota drive-time radio and sought mail-in donations. In addition to its normal hours, the MMBT frequently held evening social events to display recent acquisitions, welcome new visitors to the museum, and recruit more toilet-paper collectors. Those who regularly donated toilet paper were awarded membership complete with i.d. cards. The museum’s publications included brochures, a calendar, and the MMBT newsletter, “Swipe.”

While the first museumgoers were largely University of Wisconsin students and Madison residents, the MMBT eventually found its way into numerous national magazines and travel guides, which resulted in people from around the country visiting the museum. The Madison Museum of Bathroom Tissue was eventually acknowledged by the Madison Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Tourism Board as well. By the mid-to-late 1990s, the collection had grown to its peak size of 3,000 rolls and the MMBT member roster boasted nearly 25 dedicated collectors. Due to changes in staff availability, the MMBT began to limit visiting hours toward the end of the nineties. The museum closed its doors in December 2000 when the remaining live-in staff vacated the address to move away from Madison. The collection currently resides in Elgin, IL, kept in storage by new owners Caleb and Tracy Hanson.

Collection origins

The roll of toilet paper that would bring about the genesis of the MMBT was collected by Carol Kolb and Franzine Geis in 1992 from The Trophy Room, a tavern in Lodi, WI. A bartender gave the roll of toilet paper as a gift to the two friends, who had stated their need for toilet paper for Geis’ bathroom. At end, the young women did not use the toilet paper at Geis' Madison apartment and instead kept it as a souvenir of their evening in Lodi. The college students, who enjoyed the bars and restaurants outside Madison for the change of pace they offered from campus life and for the small towns' relaxed “carding” practices, made a pledge to collect further rolls of toilet paper from additional Wisconsin small towns. Once home, Geis used a Sharpie marker to write the name of the establishment where the toilet paper was collected, the city and state, and the date it had been procured. This would remain the official labeling system for the entire life of the museum.

Some months later, Geis moved into an apartment with Susan Hildebrandt, a longtime friend of Kolb’s, and the collection of about 15 rolls of toilet paper came with her. The collection continued to grow slowly but steadily as acquisitions from Madison-area taverns in Sun Prairie, Waunakee, and Verona were joined by those from wider variety of destinations throughout Wisconsin.

When Hildebrandt and Kolb moved into a summer sublet together in 1993, they brought around 100 rolls with them. (Some rolls may have remained with Geis, although the number is unclear.) Nicknamed variously “the Crypt,” and the “The Moldy Underground,” the basement one-bedroom apartment was also occupied by Hildebrandt and Kolb’s friend Matt Ledger. The toilet paper collection more than doubled in size during its three months in this apartment, as the roommates took their first interstate toilet-paper collecting trip that summer. The three traveled throughout the south, gathering toilet paper from such places as NASA headquarters and Graceland. While they prized rolls collected from prominent locations, it was the collectors’ idea that the numerical expansion of the collection was equally as important. Therefore, they also took toilet paper from whichever bathrooms they happened to find themselves in-- fast-food restaurants and gas stations included. As a cost-saving measure, the three usually slept in the car, just as they would on many future road trips, favoring church parking lots as their evening resting spot. On this particular trip, the three travelors spent their nights in Ledger's teal Geo Metro hatchback.

Museum staff

In the fall, Ledger, Kolb, and Hildebrandt moved into the three-bedroom apartment at 305 N. Hamilton St and built shelves in their living room to accommodate about 250 rolls of toilet paper. Shortly after, they decided their impressive collection should be open to public viewing and officially founded the Madison Museum of Bathroom Tissue. The three roommates sacrificed the rest of the living room and adjoining alcove to display the quickly expanding collection. They established museum hours and placed a sign on the door welcoming the public to view the collection during its regular hours or call to make an appointment for a private tour. The suggested donation for the museum was 25 cents, but the three usually waived the fee. They also distributed coupons for free admission which mentioned that the bearer of the coupon was entitled to a free grilled cheese sandwich if the refrigerator happened to contain cheese, bread, and butter.

Toilet paper-collecting missions continued, with the museum founders spending several weeks of the year on road trips gathering specimens for display. In the early years, it was primarily Kolb, Hildebrandt, and Ledger making these trips by car, but in later years other volunteers joined the staff or made separate journeys to destinations both national and international.

In time, the museum’s resident staff changed: Hildebrandt moved out in 1996, to be followed later by Ledger, who had carpentered the MMBT's many internal displays, built its exterior sign, and created the museum's memorable record-covered ceiling. Kolb, who wrote and designed the museum's various brochures, historical displays, and calendars, remained curator and primary live-in management for the length of the museum's existence, aided by Jeffrey P. Worthen and Todd Hanson in the final years.

The Down Below Lounge

The MMBT’s recreation center, the Down Below Lounge, was located in an apartment directly below the museum, on the first floor of the building and connected to the museum via a back stairwell.

For the length of the museum’s existence, most of the adjoining apartments were occupied by MMBT members and friends of the founders. In 1997, a group of active collectors moved into the apartment directly below the museum. Thereupon, the lower apartment was transformed into the Down Below Lounge, where an elaborate bank of mulitple televisions, connected to video cameras and multiple VCRs, displayed movies, broadcast TV, activity in other rooms, and feedback loops. The also display employed numerous forms of outmoded technology, including a Commodore 64 computer, a Pong console, and a videodisc player. Bands performed in the DBL for MMBT/DBL social events and the area became a practice space, as well. Guests flowed freely between the two apartments and visitors were often led up the back stairwell for late-night private tours of the toilet paper collection. The Down Below Lounge was created by apartment residents Patrick Kleist and Brian Kolterman, with help from Hanson and Patrick Moore. Kleist personally screenprinted the museum's T-shirts and other merchandise. While its function was altered after the museum's closing, the DBL outlasted the MMBT by a year.

Members

Card-carrying MMBT/DBL members and avid supporters included Carol Kolb, Susan Hildebrandt, Matthew Ledger, Pamela Kolb, Patrick Moore, Jeffrey P. Worthen, Jay Gawlikoski, Todd Hanson, Brian Kolterman, Kevin Duffey, Ben Cashin, Joe Tesch, Noopie Tesch, Patrick Kleist, Gertrude Kolb, Erica Loehr, Andyland, Lee Streets, The Heidis, John Krewson, and the building's landlord Richard Braun, among others.

External links

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