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Toilet Innovations: History Of Where It's Been And Where It's Going


The history of the toilet is inextricably tied to the history of humanity itself. A basic function of survival, excreting is a body function that simultaneously relaxes and repels the voider.  Through many years of employment, the toilet has evolved, but the purpose of it has remained the same.  To rid humans of the waste they produce. Depending on where and when one lived in time plays a huge part in determining one's expelling style.

The First Toilets

The first toilet was, indeed, the squatted upon ground of grass and leaves; a method of toilet still employed today.  A hole dug in the dirt, was the logical advancement humans made in their decision of where to eliminate.  The dirt hole holds prelude to the modern day squat toilets, porcelain bowls recessed into the floor, found in the Mediterranean region and in parts of Asia today.  

Ancient Egyptians, curators of the modern cat box, sat on benches made of limestone or wood, which had holes cut out in them, and urinated, into boxes of sand.

The Stone Age Scots who lived on the Orkney Islands built their farmhouses over running drains.  Remains of these houses show that some had cubicles, believed to be toilet rooms, built over the drains.

The ancient Chinese had simple pots to use.  The fillings of the pots would be collected and sold as manure fertilizer to the rural farmers of China, and created an economical link between city and rural areas. Early Japanese Chamber Pot: Source - WikipediaEarly Japanese Chamber Pot: Source - Wikipedia

One may think that flushable toilets are conveniences of recent history, but the oldest flushable toilet can be dated back 4,000 years to India, where excrement was flushed when a jug of water was emptied into the site of evacuation.  Sewage systems beneath the city would carry the waste away.

Cloacina, Roman goddess of the sewer, must have smiled down brightly at the Romans and the importance they laid upon where to defecate. The Roman Empire's lavatories were elaborate, well decorated facilities where commoners gathered, and relieved their bowels publicly.  One next to another, settled on stone seats, no partition to separate their bodies, it was perfectly normal for Romans to gather and gossip, discourse from both orifices.  The sophisticated sewer system the Romans designed and built had running water beneath the lavatories to carry bodily business away. Perhaps if the Romans had prayed a little harder to Cloacina, the sewer goddess may have blessed them with the thought to clean their nether regions with something besides a communal sponge on a stick dipped in water between wipes.

Roman Toilets: Souce WikipediaRoman Toilets: Souce Wikipedia

The fall of the Roman Empire left toilet technology constipated. Refined plumbing seemed to disappear from Europe, and the sophistication of the sewers came to be replaced by the outhouse, a small building or shack replete with a wooden board to sit on and a deep pit to plop in.  Outhouses, though rare in wealthy provinces, can still be found in less developed countries of the world.

The Flushing Toilet


Calling a toilet a “john” came about when in England, 1596, Sir John Harrington, published a “A New Discourse on a Stale Subject: Called the Metamorphosis of Ajax”. The manuscript was about the flushing toilet, the “ajax”, Harrington had devised and installed at his house. The “ajax” was a forerunner to the modern toilet, complete with a valve to let water out of the tank and a wash down feature that would empty the bowl into drainage below. The phenomena of the ajax toilet was not one that was widely accepted, or perhaps affordable, and the outhouse continued to be the toilet method of choice for hundreds of years.

Fast forward to more modern times.  In 1891, the unfortunately named Thomas Crapper patented the valve and siphon design, and his company, T. Crapper Brass & Co., ushered in a new era, where the indoor toilet gained popularity.

In 1907, the first ceramic toilet was produced in America by the Eljer Plumbingware Company, with much skepticism that a ceramic utility had the strength to serve it's purpose well.

The refinement of the toilet put an end to the days of chamber pots and out the window disposal of waste. By the 1920s, building codes established that all new single family residential construction have indoor bathrooms.

Innovations In Toilet Technology

Though the basic design of the toilet has remained the same since the early 1900s, there have been a number of innovations that make a trip to the toilet more comfortable.  In 1935, Northern Tissue advertised “splinter free” toilet paper, as use with its predecessor ran the risk of an injured bottom.1942 saw the invention of two-ply toilet paper, making wiping one's mess less likely to soil one's hand. Nowadays there are toilet papers imprinted with everything from Chuck Norris' face to crossword puzzles.  

High tech toilets, which include such features as an electrically warmed seat, warm water bidet, and blow dryer, were introduced in Japan in the 1970s.  These high tech toilets, called Washlets, were first manufactured by the Japanese company Toto. Toto now makes a wide variety of modern toilet conveniences including the  TOTO SS114 softclose toilet seat  and TOTO CST416M dual flush toilets that saves on water consumption, and even items like a travel Washlet, which allows one to wash their backside with warm water far from the convenience of their own home.

Washlet ToiletWashlet Toilet

For those men too lazy to lift the toilet seat before relieving themselves, or for those tired of being scorned for leaving the seat up, the toilet seat lift pedal allows folks to step on a pedal to lift the toilet seat and lid.

Perhaps one of the most ingenious innovations in recent toilet design is the Eco Bath System which sends water from the sink to the toilet to reduce water waste. The sleek design of this system is attractive and compact enough to fit in smaller bathrooms.

Urinals, being of different shape than regular toilets, have been manufactured in shapes ranging from flowers, to open mouths, ready and waiting for the watering.  Those with money to spare can commission their man potties to be sculpted into any shape they so desire.  Regular toilets, with not as much room to have their shape transformed, can still be turned into works of art by having flowers or whatever one desired painted on to them. One can have their toilets made of gold or encrusted in jewels, if one so desires to flush their money away.

Gold ToiletGold Toilet

Nowadays, one can even purchase a toilet with a fan to immediately rid one of the stench from their waste.  Odorless toilets have paved the way for this novelty in bathroom comfort.  

Innovations have come almost as far as the briefcase toilet, with a lightweight aluminum internal structure, is a toilet to take on the go.  Designed to look like a briefcase, users can open it up, and have a restroom ready to use anywhere. It's not an actual product but it does highlight how far toilet technology has evolved since the day of grass and dirt.

Gotta Go Travel ToiletGotta Go Travel Toilet


How far will humans go to make the experience of relieving themselves the most comfortable experience possible?  We've come along way from squatting in the dirt, and leaves one wondering what the next toilet innovation will be and how much further we have to go to obtain the most pleasant bathroom facility ever.

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