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Toilets are a centerpiece for bathrooms. Sometimes, people design entire bathrooms – or even adjacent bedrooms – around their toilets. In fact, skyscrapers and other large buildings oftentimes are constructed around toilets’ plumbing systems. Toilets play a large role in both architectural practicality and everyday hygiene.
So, when were toilets invented?
In 1596, Sir John Harrington created the first flush-able toilet. This was the start of the modern-day toilet. However, evidence of different mechanisms suggests Sir Harrington’s idea was not completely original, though he did pave the way for the current design.
Continue reading to learn more about when toilets were invented. From their use in ancient times to modern-day bathrooms, toilets are essential for regular hygiene. In earlier times, toilets were certainly less developed than what you see today, but they still proved useful. Now, they act both for convenience and style.
When Were Toilets Invented?
The modern toilet was invented by Sir John Harrington (Link) in 1596, although there are many earlier and later accomplishments that supplement this invention.
Evidence of toilets as early as the 26th-century B.C.E. (Link) suggests that the Indu Valley Civilization constructed a rather impressive sewage system that allowed for the first known type of toilet. While these toilets are nothing like the one in your bathroom today, it shows that the idea has been a long time coming.
Sewage Lines Leading to Rivers
If you know anything about ancient Rome, the chances are that you have heard of their intricate sewage system designs. While they did not seem to have flushing toilets, they built outhouses whose bottoms eventually led to the Tiber River. Of course, this is not the most efficient or sanitary way to get rid of waste, but for the time being, it was an impressive feat.
Creation of the Flush Mechanism
Al-Jazari, thought to be of Arabian or Persian descent, created a hand-washing device in 1206 C.E. This invention was not technically related to toilets, though the idea behind his flush mechanism resembles that of modern-day flush toilets. Perhaps unknowingly, Al-Jazari is one of the most important people when it comes to the invention of the toilet. (Link)
In 1596, Sir John Harrington, the godson of Queen Elizabeth I, invented his version of a flush toilet. There is some evidence that it may not have been the first flush toilet ever, but it is clearly recognizable that his invention is most closely related to the toilets you see today.
Patent for the Flush Toilet
After flush toilets began being made, they were not automatically popular. Eventually, however, patents for flush toilets allowed the production to grow. As you will read shortly, it was not until the 1800’s that at-home toilets started gaining traction.
Increase in At-Home Toilets
In the late 19th century, Thomas Crapper (Link) popularized the flush toilet with a developed siphon system to empty the tank and prevent leakage in the toilet. Although his name is synonymous with toilets, he was not the original inventor. However, his plumbing system led to the continued production of better toilets.
With this timeline showing some of the most notable events in the creation of the toilet, it is clear to see that toilets are not an altogether new invention. Still today, however, you might see toilets changing by design, technology, and more. The events above give a solid foundation on which to observe how toilets have grown through the years.
When Did Toilets Become Common?
With the emergence of modern toilets impressing those curious enough to learn about them, it still took a while for toilets to become common. It is said that even when Sir John Harrington presented Queen Elizabeth with his first flush toilet, she refused to use it because it was too noisy.
Another thing that stunted the popularity growth of toilets was the required patents. Because flush toilets were so much different from more basic latrines with low-level sewage systems, it took quite some time to have a patent approved to manufacture toilets. Entrepreneurs back in the day had to face similar time stretches and obstacles you may notice in modern times.
In the early 1800’s, perhaps as a result of the cholera pandemic, the general public became more aware of personal hygiene. People realized that some day-to-day activities encouraged dirty habits, and they wanted to make a change. The early 19th century is when toilets started to become common.
Up until the mid-1800’s, many toilets could be found in public buildings. These versions of bathrooms were called “water closets.” Only more wealthy people had toilets in their homes as the emerging product was advertised at a high price. The public water closets consisted of a room with a toilet connected to a plumbing system. In 1851, the Crystal Palace in London charged a penny (Link) for citizens to use what were assumed to be the first public toilets.
When Did Most Homes Have Toilets?
It was not until the end of the 1850’s that one would find more homes with a water closet. Once modern toilets gained traction, the patents were passed, public toilets were built, and the price became more affordable.
It was not that water closets were immensely expensive in the first place, but wealthy homes did possess the extra money to try them out. What really grew the popularity of toilets was the mere realization that they were necessary. As more people began installing toilets in their homes, others caught on.
In 1859, most middle-class homes had toilets because it was required of them by building codes. The push for better hygiene paired with a practical way to take care of waste influenced the installment of toilets more commonly in private residences. After this, the installment of toilets in most homes happened rapidly.
With Sir Harrington’s flush toilet mechanism and Thomas Crapper’s development of more efficient plumbing, the modern-day toilet was born. Once it gained popularity and patents were approved, public water closets eventually led to at-home toilets.
The toilet you used today is a product thought of centuries earlier.
Sir John Harrington is credited with inventing the modern-day toilet in 1596. Still, there were many contributors before and after him that helped pave the way for toilets and develop more sophisticated systems to improve personal hygiene.