The History of the Toilet
Believe it or not, once upon a time the toilet was located outdoors with no running water. Though it may seem barbaric by today’s standards, the “water closets” of yesterday were a huge leap toward the modern luxury and convenience of the bathroom experience we enjoy today.
The First Flushing Toilet
The first flushing toilet can be traced as far as 1700 BC in ancient Greece. Archeological excavations revealed large earthenware pans connected to a water supply in the Palace of Knossos. By 315 AD, Rome had 144 public toilets and toilet time was viewed as a social event. Around the same time, the more affluent began adding a separate room called a garderobe in their homes that was situated directly over a moat.
In Britain during the early 19th century, the expansion of public toilets did not match population growth, and cities became overcrowded and fraught with toxins. Disease and death ensued with tens of thousands dying due to the unsanitary conditions and the tainted water supply. In 1848, the British government decreed that every home built from that time forward would include a “water closet” or ash pit privy. Even these measures were still not enough to abate the stench. The government commissioned the building of a sewer system that would serve London. Finally, after the system was completed in 1865, the Brits had a system that worked in preventing disease and death from open trenches.
The water-closet did not reach the United States until the 1880s when bathrooms with indoor plumbing could be found in affluent homes and luxury hotels. Early bathrooms in the United States were located in ornately decorated suites with tubs, lavatories, water closets, foot baths, and sitz baths. By 1880, open plumbing was becoming popular in more affluent homes, with porcelain fixtures in full view.
However, it wasn’t until the late 19th century that Americans began to enjoy public water systems and sewer lines. And, even then, only the wealthy had the money to pay for the construction of water lines leading to their homes. The lower classes would have to wait until 1930 when access to public water lines was provided by cities to the entire urban population. Country dwellers wouldn’t see running water until around 1945. Until then, many used outhouses, a dry, outdoor toilet common for the time but a rare find in the United States of today.
From Ornate to Sensible
By the 1900s, toilets continued to evolve, incorporating the more practical design. Ornate decorations disappeared and toilets with ornate designs were replaced with white, sanitary surfaces and low tanks that were much more sensible and easy to maintain.
Though the toilet has evolved since the 1900s, the same basic one-piece design of yesterday is very similar to today’s modern toilet.