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History of the Toilet

The toilet is one of the single most important inventions ever, in terms of contributing to our standard of living, comfort and community health — but you won’t find a museum devoted to it. Could you imagine your life without the toilet, though? Next time you head to the lavatory, take a moment to honor some historical toilet facts.

Primitive Sanitation

Since the beginning of recorded history, mankind has been devising ways to dispose of human waste. Community toilets were built in Ancient Rome, while medieval England invented the castle garderobe which deposited waste into a moat. Those without such conveniences used chamber pots, and wealthy folks concealed these in cabinets with a comfy seat.

The first flush toilet, however, was designed in 1596 by Sir John Harrington. It was called a “water closet” and utilized a raised cistern with a valve to release water through a small pipe, which flushed waste down a drain. These closets were smelly places, though, until 200 years later, when Alexander Cummings invented the S-shaped pipe to block out odors.

The Toilet as We Know It

You may have heard that the modern flush toilet was invented by a man named Thomas Crapper. While he did not invent the fixture, he was a prominent plumber in London hired to install toilets in several royal palaces. He’s famous because he was the first to advertise toilets in a showroom — basically, brand marketing. His name became associated with the toilet, like Xerox with copiers and Kleenex with tissues.

It was the wealthier members of society, however, that benefited from these early advancements in bathroom plumbing. Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, “water closets” (as they still were tanks that sat high above the toilet seat) made their way into widespread usage.

Modern Innovations

In the 20th century, several innovations in residential plumbing led to the restrooms of today. Tanks were lowered, and toilet paper was sold on rolls. Toilets also started to be manufactured in a rainbow of porcelain colors to match owners’ décor. “Low-flow” toilets were invented as well, and fortunately there have been great improvements on today’s toilets since the early models.

Still, it’s important to keep in mind that until the 1950s, and even beyond, outhouses were in common use, especially in rural areas. Even today, open latrines can be found in primitive campsites and rest areas where plumbing installation would be impractical. At least 40% of the world population lacks proper sanitation — as well as access to safe, clean water.

The toilet, and bathroom plumbing, are parts of our homes we take for granted — until we really need one, or until they aren’t working right. If you have any plumbing concerns, call Mr. Rooter Plumbing of Oneida and have a Service Professional come out and do a “Plumbing Check Up” on all of your residential plumbing at no charge.