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The Toilet: A History

Arguably one of the most important inventions and advancements in hygiene is the modern day toilet. In the early days, the basic bodily function of excreting waste would be performed wherever it was most convenient, such as a river, bucket or hole, these only options had many negative ramifications including disease and illness. Later, as we became more civilized, pots were used to collect and was disposed of away from living areas. Specific places to perform these functions were later put in place so that privacy and a more sanitary environment could be accomplished.

History of a toilet

2800 (BC)

Ruins uncovered in Minoan Crete (in the Mediterranean Sea near Greece) suggest that these early toilet systems used troughs. An individual would sit overflowing water operated by using a release handle mechanism to initiate the water release to “flush” the human waste away.

The 1500s

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

1700s — 1900s

Sewage systems were continuously improved through the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s in many major urban centers throughout the world, especially cities in Europe and the United States. Flushing toilets, previously used only by royalty or very wealthy people, were now becoming more available to the commoners. These improved sewage systems and waste treatment mechanisms allowed for the use of more indoor and flushing toilets to be used. The first patent for the flushing water closet was issued to Alexander Cummings in 1775, Cummings designed a toilet in which the water supply was brought low into the bowl, and some water remained after each flush.


In the 1880s, England’s Prince Edward hired Thomas Crapper to construct lavatories in several royal palaces. While Crapper patented a number of bathroom-related inventions (pull chain system, airtight seal between toilet and floor and ventilation systems). He was, however, the first one to display his bathroom wares in a showroom, so that when customers needed a new fixture, they would immediately think of his name.


Bathroom technology improved out of sight in the 20th century. Flushable valves, water tanks that rest on top of the bowl rather than above, toilet-paper rolls — these minor improvements seem like important necessities now!

The toilet in history

The advances of improved toilet systems and overall human waste disposal systems and processes greatly improved the health and living standards. Diseases such as cholera killed millions and millions of people when human faecal matter contaminated waterways used to drink, cook and bathe. The evolution of improved systems dramatically improved the health of civilizations and saved millions from death from disease borne from poor waste control.


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