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Considered an unacceptable discussion topic, socially and academically, the toilet habits of our early predecessors has not been extensively documented, those academics who did dare to write on the subject were considered vulgar, lowly and in some cases erotic.

As long as man did not have an established abode, he did not have a toilet. He excreted wherever he felt like doing so. When man adopted the idea of a fixed house, he then moved the toilet to a courtyard and then within his home. Once this was done, it became a challenge to deal with smell and the need was felt to have a toilet which could intake human wastes and dispose of out of the house instantly to maintain a standard of cleanliness. Man has tried many variations of this, i.e. chamber pots which were cleaned manually by the servants or slaves, toilets protruding out of the top floor of a house or castle with the disposal of wastes through a river below, common toilets with holes on the top and a flowing river or stream underneath - or in many instances people would just enter a stream or river and dispose of the waste directly.

Sitting type toilets in human history appeared as early as 2500 BC being water borne toilets linked between houses with drains covered with burnt clay bricks. Archaeological excavations confirm the existence of sitting type toilets in Egypt (2100 BC). Although the mechanics of working these toilets had been achieved, the basic format of the system remains the same. In Rome, public bath-cum-toilets were also well developed with holes in the floor above flowing water. There was no shyness in the use of toilets. It was frequent to see at dinner parties in Rome, slaves bringing in urine pots made of silver, while members of royalty relieved themselves and continued to socialise at the same time.

By about 200 BC public attitudes slowly began to improve - authorities began to educate people on the importance of having private toilets, how to clean them and to control themselves when in company. Between the period 500 to 1500 AD it was a very dark age from the point of view of human hygiene. It was an era of cesspools. The rich man's toilets disposed of waste into the water and land below used by the poorer.

In 1596 the water closet was invented by John Harrington, costing only 6 shillings and 8 pence, however the closet was not adopted on a large scale for almost 200 years. The delays in actual use of new inventions was common at that time. During this time people used an earth toilet as an alternative - instead of water, earth was used, therefore the cleaning problems remained. The world also saw the development of pan closets, which like cigarette ash trays, threw the material to the bottom - again requiring manual cleaning. At the same time chamber pots , close stools and open defecation remained. In 1738, JF Brondel introduced the valve type flush toilet. Alexander Cummings further improved the technology and designed toilets with perennial water to suppress odours. Still the working of the valve and foolproof inlet of water needed improvements. In 1777 Joseph Preiser provided this by substituting the slide valve with a crank valve. It seemed then the technology of pour flush was perfected - until 1870 when SS Helior invented the flush type toilet, called optims.

The late 1800's saw the introduction of the sewerage system, described by the designer, Haussmann as "underground galleries which are organs of the big city, working as organs of the body, without being revealed."

Legend or fact, Thomas Crapper, holder of 9 patents for improvements to drains, water closets, manhole covers and pipe joints, although possibly not responsible for inventing the product he is most often associated with, the toilet, made a significant contribution to the history of plumbing. It is thought the word "crap" was derived from American World War I soldiers seeing the words "T. Crapper" printed on tanks and coined the slang "crapper" meaning toilet.

From 1880 onwards most emphasis was placed on aesthetics to make cisterns and bowls decorative, in some cases resembling fruit bowls. Toilet curtains were introduced and eventually the institution of the bathroom came in vogue.

Even in this day and age, many underdeveloped countries still have the challenge of providing acceptable toilet facilities for their communities

However we must appreciate the innovation of our plumbing and inventor predecessors who have provided society with this necessary and often taken for granted item, the toilet, the critical link between order and disorder and a good or bad environment. The toilet is a part of the history of human hygiene which is a critical chapter in the growth of civilisation.

2,000 year old loo discovered
July 26, 2000

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has flushed Britain's claims to have invented the water closet down the pan with the discovery of a 2,000-year-old toilet complete with running water, a stone seat and a comfortable armrest.

Archaeologists found the antique latrine in the tomb of a king of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC to 24 AD), who believed his soul would need to enjoy human life after death, the official Xinhua news agency said on Wednesday.

"This top-grade stool is the earliest of its kind ever discovered in the world, meaning that the Chinese used the world's earliest water closet which is quite like what we are using today," Xinhua quoted the archaeologists' report as saying.

"It was a great invention and a symbol of social civilization of that time," Xinhua said.

The invention of the flush toilet is widely attributed to London plumber Thomas Crapper, who patented a U-bend siphoning system for flushing the pan in the late 19th century, and who also installed toilets for Queen Victoria.

Among other inventions claimed by China are toilet paper, fireworks, gunpowder, the compass, paper money, kites, printing and the clock.

The toilet tomb was discovered in Shangqiu county in the central province of Henan, Xinhua said.

Archaeologists also found a queen consort's stone tomb, more than 690 feet long and consisting of more than 30 rooms including a bathroom, toilet, kitchen and an ice-store.

Source material and graphics were obtained from MasterPlumbers.com 
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