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The Flush Toilet--Interesting Facts on an Amazing Invention

Updated on February 13, 2018

A Great Invention--The Flush Toilet


The Flush Toilet--A Great Invention

In most developed nations today, people take some important inventions for granted. Prior to the modern period, most people in urban areas lived in filthy conditions. One of the things that led to these horrible conditions were the methods of waste removal--a toss out the window into the street, regardless of who may have been walking in front or below the window. With no real sewage systems to get rid of such rubbish, it festered and bred more pathogens to infect the unsuspecting. It is no wonder that Norman Cantor's Civilization of the Middle Ages pointed out that the first thing that those entering a medieval town would have noticed was the smell.

This awful situation was largely alleviated with the re-adoption of mass sewage systems and flush toilets that removed such waste from the general population (although there was then the problem of sewage-infested rivers).

Thomas Crapper


Interesting Facts on the Flush Toilet

1. The first flush toilets in world history were apparently developed by the Harappan civilization in the Indus Valley. Archaeological digs in sites known as Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in modern-day India revealed that most dwellings in these fairly sizable early cities were in use in the mid-2000s BC, in other words about 2,500 years before Christ, give or take a few years.

2. This wonderful technology diffused to European civilization with the Minoan civilization on Crete. The flush toilet was a widespread technology in the Roman Empire, and there is evidence that the flush toilet even made its way to Britain at Hadrian's Wall. Unfortunately, this wonderful invention was lost to Europeans after the fall of the Romans. What did the Romans bring to Europe, in addition, to roads, the Pax Romana, and aqueducts? Of course, the flush toilet.

3. Elizabeth I of England actually had a flush toilet, introduced to the sovereign by her godson Sir John Harrington. While this toilet flushed, there was no trap to keep out the wonderful gasses and odors that build up. This was quite an improvement over the medieval English "castle garderobe," which was basically a toilet-like stand built in a small room that hanged over a moat. Falling in a moat in England at this time was obviously not a terribly positive experience, although with the lack of bathing in Europe during the medieval period, these poor souls probably fit right in.

4. At about the time the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, a Brit by the name of Alexander Cummings patented the S-trap to keep out the stench that a straight pipe allowed to seep back into the privy.

5. Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet. That urban legend needs to be ...well...flushed down the crapper, as did his advertisement that he had patented an improvement to the flush toilet.

6. In 1994, the US government mandated that flush toilets should only use 1.6L per flush, rather than the 3.4L previously the standard. Interestingly, the two flushes needed to unstop large (or even not-so-large) clogs would have been avoided by simply leaving things the way they were.

A Holiday for the Flush Toilet--World Toilet Day

This interesting fact on the flush toilet needs its own heading, rather than being merely relegated to the rest of the list. Yes, the flush toilet has its own special day. November 19 is World Toilet Day, and the celebration of the flush toilet is meant to "raise global awareness of the struggle 2.6 billion face every day without access to proper, clean sanitation.WTD also brings to the forefront the health, emotional and psychological consequences the poor endure as a result of inadequate sanitation." (WTO website) World Toilet Day is such a big deal that Time magazine even felt the need to promote it.

Well, dear readers, I hope you found this short venture into the wonderful world of the flush toilet. Be glad you don't live in the medieval period and happy flushing. If you found this Hub especially entertaining, please share, because everyone needs to remember the importance of this wonderful invention that greatly improves our lives.


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