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The History of Toilets


Can you imagine life without a toilet!? The toilet is quite possibly THE most important invention in human history. Maybe not the most important, but definitely one that has had the most impact! Could you picture Manhattan with commonplace chamber pot disposal in the middle of the street or a back alley? YIKES!

Earlier versions of the toilet included the “earth closet,” which was along the lines of a kitty litter box. After it was used, dry granular clay would be put on top, and when the box was full, the clay and waste would be removed to dispose of it. Next up was the automated chamber pot, which had a hole in the bottom, and water from a tank flowed out of holes in the rim of the bowl. Then the water and waste would flow into a hole or tank in the ground or sometimes even into a creek or river!

The first-generation toilets were the most efficient because of their “wash out” methods of cleanout. The only problem was that not all places had water and/or waste lines which would mean it wasn’t washed away properly. Also, if all the waste didn’t go through the trap, odors would happen.

Sir John Harington, who was Queen Elizabeth’s godson, made what he referred to as a “necessary” for he and the Queen in 1596. He was made fun of by people for this device because they had never seen such a thing, so he never made any more other than the two for himself and the Queen. An English company, Thomas Twyford, is credited for the first all-ceramic toilet. This was invented in 1885 and was all one piece!


In 1886, the first toilet with a flush tub to the bottom of the bowl was developed in England, even though an American had received a patent for the same concept about ten years before that! These designs were known as “wash-out” toilets. Fast forward to the turn of the century, and the “siphonic flush” toilets we all know and appreciate in today’s world were all the rage.

Here are a few more fun facts about the throne we all sit upon:

    • Royal Dolton, who is known for their fine china pieces, was one of the first to make wash-out style toilets.
    • At one point in time, companies making toilets wanted to make the best design to get the Royal Family’s approval.
    • Most of the companies that originally marketed toilets were art companies, not engineers!
    • Some people claim that the slang name “John” for the toilet came from the John Douglas Company of Cincinnati putting his name on the toilet in America. There were actually a few manufacturers with John in their logos or names.
    • When many of the founding artists or owners died, their smaller companies moved into larger ones, and salespeople, engineers and managers replaced the artists that originally did designs, and this is how mass production started.

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