We may finally have an answer, courtesy of an 1891 patent by New York businessman Seth Wheeler.
Credited by some as America’s founding father of toilet paper, Wheeler patented the first perforated wipes in 1871 and launched his Albany Perforated Wrapping Paper Company in ’77, two years before the Scott brothers debuted their blockbuster brand selling toilet paper to hotels and pharmacies. Wheeler filed dozens of patents until the 1920s, including those for toilet paper crimped into ornamental patterns and disposable “bosom pads” meant to replace expensive corsets. But his greatest invention was the roll-and-handles design in 1891 – a now-ubiquitous fixture whose patent illustration solved the “over/under” tissue issue before it even started.
The answer, as you can see above, is “over” – no surprise to the estimated 70% of wipers who already prefer this position, according to cnet.com. Proponents say an “over” roll provides easier access to the free end of the toilet paper and minimises the risk of knuckle-on-wall germ gathering. The vehement 30% in the “under” camp counter that their position gives a tidier appearance and makes paper less prone to pet attacks – concerns that Victorian householders probably overlooked after switching from aloe-infused hemp sheets to Wheeler’s first perforated rolls.