A Brief History of the Modern Toilet

Commercial toilets

Toilets are something that is often taken for granted in today’s world. Even though a large population of the world still has limited access to good waste disposal systems, most of us take these modern marvels for granted. Most of us are more worried about the pressure in our commercial toilets at work, or whether we’re using water efficient toilets. But modern toilets have come a long way. Here is a brief history on the development of the toilet, so you might understand just how far we’ve come.

While modern toilets with flushing capability are a relatively recent development, more rudimentary toilets have been in existence for thousands of year. In the third millenium B.C., ancient civilizations such as Harappa and Mohenjo-daro (located in what is now modern day India and Pakistan) had complex sewage systems to help dispose of waste. The toilets themselves were often made of bricks with wooden seats on top, and were mainly used by the affluent classes. Some of the sewage systems even had running water in order to remove the waste, perhaps being the envy of anybody that’s used poorly constructed commercial toilets.

These relatively complex and advanced toilets and sewage systems saw continued use through Ancient Egypt, Persia, and Roman civilizations. As with most things, though, advanced toilet systems fell out of use after the fall of the Roman empire. In Europe during the early modern period, things got quite a bit messier. Chamber pots were the preferred method of waste disposal, and were often simply emptied out the window and into the nearest gutter (or street).

Eventually, cesspits and cesspools started to gain wider adoption, though they weren’t much better in terms of hygiene. Cesspits were simply large holes dug in the ground, into which the waste was emptied. As urban populations began to increase, cesspits became more of a necessity as street gutters became overrun with large amounts of human waste that could no longer be washed out by the rain.

Eventually, in the 1890s, flush toilets were introduced into many wealthy households. As time went on and public awareness of germ theories regarding diseases increased, and manufacturing became more inexpensive, flush toilets started to become the ubiquitous household fixture that we know of today.

While today we worry about water efficient and commercial toilets, we have come a long way. Yet in some cases, such as the ancient toilets of Mohenjo-daro, we haven’t had to come far at all to get to the advanced commercial toilets we see today. But the next time you find yourself making use of the wonderful modern convenience of commercial toilets, take a moment to think of the long history behind its invention.

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