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The History of the Toilet

Often taken for granted, the toilet has a storied history. Usually (falsely) credited to Thomas Crapper, the toilet really has a much more dense history than one might imagine, with aspects of its modern-day form dating back to the ancient Chinese and sixteenth century British.

Before toilets were invented, people would dispose of waste the same way they would trash: by dumping it in the street. Thanks to this practice, the streets of London became increasingly filthy. As the world became more populated, issues of personal hygiene arose, and there emerged a desperate need for a solution. (It would still be many years before bath design and installation would become popular!)

The godson of Queen Elizabeth I, Sir John Harrington invented the first modern toilet with an opening valve (which produces the “flush”) in 1596. To keep things sanitary, Harrington advised to pull the valve (or flush the toilet) at least once a day. The first toilet is said to have been installed for the Queen herself. Many believe that Thomas Crapper invented the toilet, but that is not true. Crapper did, however, work as an esteemed plumber and found ways to improve the sanitation system that ran underneath modern toilets. Years of study and improvements have brought the toilet to today’s modern style.

Where would the toilet be without the proper hygenic paper? The ancient Chinese are considered the first to invent toilet paper. This version of sanitary paper was deemed unclean by travelers visiting the area, as the practice didn’t involve actually cleansing the area with soap and water. Nonetheless, this special paper product eventually made its way to the Western world in the late 1800s. Toilet paper wouldn’t become internationally used until the 1900s, when the invention entered the average household.

These days, the toilet is an invaluable component of any modern bathroom. There’s much to be owed to Sir Harrington for this incredibly useful invention! If you’re considering a remodeling job, consider the history behind the toilet and the ways in which modern toilet technology can make a difference in your home.

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