The "Flush Toilet" a tribute to Ingenuity by Sylvan Tieger


Sylvan Introduces Maureen Francis, Talking About The Development Of The Toilet

A gleaming tribute to human ingenuity stands silent and ready for use at a moments notice. This invention is now largely ignored, or taken for granted, but it has done as much to revolutionize the health of the world as any vaccine. This marvelous invention is the flush toilet.

We don't like to think about what our lives would be like without modern conveniences such as electricity, automobiles, and appliances. Could you imagine what your life would be like if you did not have modern plumbing? Most of us can not imagine life with out a toilet, but until the 1800's, disposal of human waste was a daily struggle, and a disgusting task.

The earliest written reference to the disposal of human waste is more than 3600 years old and is found in The Holy Bible. "And you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and cover your refuse..."(Deuteronomy 23:12-13). For hundreds of thousands of years before the bible was written, human beings simply squatted when they had the urge to relieve themselves.

As the world became more populated, disposal of human wastes became a bit more difficult. In ancient Egypt, cities began to spring up from the desert. By 2500 B.C., the Egyptians had solved the waste disposal dilemma, and had constructed bathrooms with latrines which were flushed by hand with buckets of water. The latrines emptied into earthenware pipes, many of which are still functional today (Wright, Lawrence 10). Rome also had a public sewage system called cloxa maxima. It was constructed to prevent the streets from filling up with rain water and human waste. Public latrines were erected over channels of water. The latrines had stone seats with a hole in the center of them, much like the modern toilet seat that is in use today (Coleman Penny 26). Much of this forward- thinking technology had not spread to Europe, however, and the Europeans struggled with sanitation for centuries to come before they realized that something needed to be done.

By 1189, the city of London was an absolute mess. The population had grown rapidly, and many of it's inhabitants lived in squalor. London did have public and private facilities called garderobes. A garderobe was a toilet, or bank of toilets, either in a private castle or public hall. It was connected to a pipe through the side of the building that housed it. The waste emptied directly into a pit, moat, or river directly outside the building. A huge public garderobe emptied directly into the Thames river, causing stench and disease for the entire population of London. The Thames river was squalid and ripe with the smell of rotting sewage. A public law, stating that garderobes must be walled in, or at least 5 * feet from the nearest neighbor, was written in 1189 by the London Health Board, but the law did little to improve the sanitary conditions (Wright 50).

The garderobe was no longer built by the year 1530, and the close stool was the newest modern convenience. The close stool was simply a chair with a porcelain or metal pot underneath, which needed to be removed and emptied. The stool had a seat which was padded with velvet, and was often equipped with handles for traveling (Wright 68-70). This was a great invention for Kings and Queens, Noblemen and Ladies. The poor, however, still relieved themselves in the street, or in a bucket or cistern inside their homes.

What did these people do with the waste? They threw it out into the street, of course. They would shout "gardez l'eau" (watch out for the water) before tossing the contents of their chamber pot out an open window or door, usually to the dismay of the passers by on the street. Londoners would rather live with the stench and filth than pay higher taxes to have underground sewer systems installed (Coleman 45). The public had not yet made the association with sewage and disease.

R.H Mottram, in 1830, stated in a public report regarding the streets of Leeds, England: "568 streets were taken in for examination...Whole streets were flooded with sewage... The death rate in the clean streets was 1 in 36; and in the dirty streets; 1 in 24." Children seemed to be dying at an amazing rate. Death rates for children were 480 per thousand in the city, while in the country, the death rate for children was 240 per thousand (Wright 144). The rulers, as well as the public, knew that something must be done. Cholera was rampant and the smell was unbearable. Louis Pastuer, a noted scientist, convinced Europe that if drinking water came from a well, it may be contaminated from any number of nearby cesspits, and if it came from a river, it was most certainly contaminated ( 148). The Cholera epidemic between 1844-1855 claimed 20,000 lives, and something had to be done, so London built a sewer system (149). With the new sewer system came the need for a toilet that flushed with water in order to prevent the future spread of disease, and the flush toilet was born.


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