Saturday, 27 June 2009

The History Of The Modern Toilet

It is hard to imagine that once upon a time people used to do their 'business' in public places, or throw their 'business' out of the window or the front door. The invention of the modern toilet truly has transformed the world we live in.

When people think of the invention of the toilet, they think of Sir Thomas Crapper. It is not hard to fathom why as his surname is 'Crapper'. However, although he can be credited for many of the improvements made in the system, him being behind the invention is largely a myth. The Victorians were largely baffled as to how to build a flushing water closet that would efficiently remove waste in the most sanitary way possible.

Sir John Harrington already had a flushing water closet designed for Queen Elizabeth 1st in 1596, however it did not catch on with the rest of society simply due to the fact that it was seen more as a novelty rather than something of real practical use. The main issue of waste disposal remained. Some people threw the waste out on the street. When millions of people died as a result of widespread cholera in 1832, people then became increasingly aware that it was the unsanitary conditions they were living in that was causing and spreading the disease.

Alexander Cummings was responsible for designing a toilet in 1775, in which the water supply was brought low into the bowl, and some water remained after each flush. This water closet was an improvement to Sir John Harrington's design. His new design had it's benefits. For instance, the excess water stopped the house from smelling of sewage, and also cleaned the bowl after use. On the other hand there were some serious flaws in the system. For example, the seal at the bottom of the toilet leaked and this was continually emitting sewer gases into the home. People largely underestimated how toxic these gases could be.

Sir Thomas Crapper did his part in renovating the toilet system. As a plumber he opened up his shop in 1861 and named it ''The Marlboro Works of Thomas Crapper & Company'. Crapper continuously began testing toilets so that his experience increased and he was able to detect flaws more easily. He had a 250-gallon water tank installed on the roof of his building. Some of the improvements he is known for include inventing a pull-chain system for powerful flushing, and an air tight seal between the toilet and the floor. In addition, he patented several venting systems for venting the sewer gas by way of a pipe through the roof.

So there is an important lesson to be learned here. Next time you feel the need to go to the toilet, do take a few moments to marvel at its invention, and the many hurdles and obstacles it's inventors and plumbers had to go through in order for us to have our lives made much easier.

By: Tal Potishman

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