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The Toilet (Circa 2800 BC – Present)

History of the Toilet

Arguably, one of the most important inventions in human history is the modern Toilet. The Toilet as we know it today had very humble, and inadequate, beginnings.

When early Man needed to defecate and/or urinate, he simply performed this basic bodily function wherever it was most convenient. Such impromptu actions had many negative ramifications. 

As we can imagine and maybe even experienced at some point; relieving oneself anywhere and anytime posed basic concerns/problems of privacy, comfort, cleanliness, social stigmatism, morality and more. 

Eventually, as Man became more civilized he adopted more progressive and healthy means of performing his basic bodily functions. He used simple pots to collect his waste in order to dispose of it away from his living area. He quickly set aside specific places to perform these functions so that privacy and a more sanitary environment could be accomplished. Such crude early “restrooms” usually consisted of holes in the ground, sometimes accompanied my running water, to collect and dispose of his waste. From a privacy point of view, these early rooms were walled off to allow the user more privacy. 

Flowing water greatly improved the disposal of human waste. As early civilizations matured, formal waste areas using flowing water became more available and helped dramatically in improving Man’s waste disposal problem in many ways not the least of which helped reduce diseases.

Ancient civilizations that implemented early toilet systems attached to flowing water sewage systems included those of ancient Crete, Greece, Egypt and Rome. In the East, ancient civilizations such as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa of the Indus Valley in India and Pakistan also implemented early Toilet systems.

First Flushing Toilet

Possibly the first flushing human waste management system or early Toilet appeared in Minoan Crete, in the Mediterranean Sea near Greece, around 2800 BC. Artifacts and ruins uncovered suggest that these early Toilet systems used troughs where one would sit over flowing water operated by using a release handle mechanism to initiate the water release to “flush” the human waste away. 

As early civilizations grew and matured around the world, many formal flushing Toilet systems and locations were used by the populace to accommodate the growth of early cities and the problem of disposing increasing amounts of human waste. Many early Toilets were part of public bath houses where citizens could cleanse themselves. 

The advance of improved Toilet systems and overall human waste management systems and processes greatly improved the health and living standards of early Man. Diseases, including cholera, killed millions upon millions of people when human fecal matter contaminated waterways used by Man to drink, cook and bathe. The evolution of improved Toilet systems, waste management systems and the separation of waste systems from water used for drinking  dramatically improved Man’s health and saved millions from death from disease borne from poor waste control. 

John Harrington

A major advance in Toilet technology occurred in England in the late 1500s. John Harrington (c.1560-1612) is credited with inventing the first modern indoor flushing mechanism. He perfected his flushing device and installed the first indoor flushing Toilet as a gift for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I of England. 

Sewage systems were also improved through the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s in many major urban centers throughout the world, especially cities in Europe and the United States. These improved sewage systems and waste treatment systems allowed for the use of more indoor and flushing Toilets to be used. Moreover, flushing Toilets, previously used only by royalty or very wealthy people, were now becoming more available to the common man.

Thomas Crapper

Thomas Crapper (1837-1910) was a famous and highly successful English plumber who specialized in providing up to date plumbing fixtures. Crapper and his company installed and maintained modern plumbing systems such as flushing Toilets,bathtubs, wash basins and modern piping. Crapper’s firm popularized the acceptance of the modern flushing Toilet and his name became somewhat synonymous with the new flushing Toilets.

Many of the millions of American troops shipped to England and France during World War I saw and used the new Crapper flushing Toilet for the first time in their life. Most Americans (and the vast majority of the world’s people) at the beginning of the 20th century were using outhouses, cesspits or other simple latrine systems for their Toilets. To use an indoor flushing Toilet was a novel experience for most of these troops. Upon returning home, these Americans told their family and friends about how they experienced this new Toilet which they called a “crapper”. 

The Modern Toilet

Although the modern flushing Toilet has revolutionized and dramatically improved one of Man’s simple yet critical needs, many in our modern world still do not have access to modern Toilets. According to The Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment 2000, by the World Health Organization, 40% of the global population does not have access to “good excreta disposal facilities”. Most of these people live in Africa and Asia. Unfortunately, in addition to not having access to a more comfortable and cleanly Toilet system, disease associated with human waste contamination is still deadly rampant in many areas of the world.

There are efforts underway by many government and health organizations to design simple and effective “squat toilets” to help many of the world’s poor who do not have access to modern Toilet systems. Such “squat toilets” are made by digging a hole, then installing a premade plastic toilet seat atop the hole and erecting simple walls with canvas coverings. Chemicals help minimize any contamination and accelerate the dissolution of the waste to help improve overall health.

It is hoped that someday all of the world’s peoples will have access to one of Man’s most simple yet important inventions, the modern Toilet.


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