Plumber Sandy Blog

Though most people tend to use the toilet at least twice a day, it’s something most people don’t know the history of. To be fair, though, even the experts aren’t sure exactly which civilization came up with the original toilet. For now, it is believed that many different peoples came up with similar systems for getting rid of bodily waste. Who are these people? What sort of ‘facilities’ did they come up with? Your Plumber Sandy has done the digging to bring you the dirt on toilets.

Very Early Toilets and Latrines

Currently the one thing the experts seem to agree on is that the precursor to the modern toilet was developed sometime during the third millennium (BC).  The earliest toilet they have evidence of currently were very advanced for their time. Much like most toilets here in Sandy, they stood up off the floor and had vertical shafts that went from under a seat to where the waste was kept. Unlike our more modern toilet, however, these toilets were connected to the outside of the house! And to think we sometimes complain about “public” restrooms here! At least we get a stall, right? They also most commonly sent the waste to cesspits or street drains. Sitting on one of these toilets was also a privilege reserved for those with money and/or status. Everyone else still had to use pots set into the ground, or holes in the ground. These toilets were in an excavated settlement that was called Mohenjo-daro, or mound of the deadmen, which has been made a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Other early civilizations that had a toilet include the Harappan Civilization who had toilets connected to moving water which emptied into drains covered by clay bricks, Skara Brae in Orkney, Scotland who had toilets that also used water to remove waste.  Around the 18th Century BC the ancient Cretan, Egyptian, and Persian countries also started to have toilets.

Middle Ages Toilets

Around the time considered the “middle ages,” also known as the time of castles and lords, toilets were reserved for the “upper classes.” A flat piece of wood or stone would run between two walls and have at least one hole to sit over. Sometimes more than one hole in the same piece of wood or stone so that multiple people could use the same waste receptacle. The rooms these latrine-like toilets were in were called ‘garderobes’. It is believed they were called this because people used to hang or hold robes over the openings so that the ammonia would kill fleas. Probably not a room one wanted to spend much time in, due to the chemicals. These toilets were usually in a tower or room placed far away from bedrooms so the smell wouldn’t bother people. The common people were still using chamber pots, though.

Flushing Toilets

The first known “flushing” toilet was invented by Sir John Herrington of Kelston, England in 1596. He called it the “AJAX”, after the street word for toilet: “Jakes.” He actually wrote a book that was supposedly about his invention the “Ajax,” although in actuality it was a much more political work. The actual toilet itself was an early version of what we use today - it had a flush valve (much like the one inside our toilet tanks), and water ran through the bowl to clean it out. Some say that the term “John” (as referring to toilets) was originally referring instead to the inventor of the flush-toilet, though no one knows if this is true.

It wasn’t until the time of the industrial revolution that flushing toilets were used by most people, however. Like the toilets found in most places here in Sandy, the toilets around this timeframe were equipped by an “S-trap.” THe S-trap was invented by a man named Alexander cummings around 1775. This allowed the bowl of the toilet to keep a pool of water inside it until flushed, and prevented icky sewer smells from filling the room the toilet is in.  These toilets, known as “Water closets” as opposed to the earthen closets used by common people previously, are first noted in Britain in the 1880s. In the 1890s America had the chain-pull indoor toilet for wealthy people and in some hotels. It wasn’t until 1906 that a toilet using pressurized water (like ours) was invented.

The toilet continues to change and advance, such as toilets in Asia that have heated seats and can check your blood pressure, but the purpose remains much the same. Either way, we are certainly glad for our indoor, sewer-smell free bathrooms and toilets!