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




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

Leornardo da Vinci drew plans for a number of flushing water closets for the castle of Francis I at Ambrose, including flushing channels inside the walls, and a ventilating system which reached through the roof. Unfortunately, like DaVinci's plans for flying machines and military tanks, the project was scrapped and considered nonsense ( 54-55). For the actual invention of the flush toilet, the credit must go to Sir John Harrington.

Sir John Harrington, godson to Queen Elizabeth I, was a writer by trade. In 1596 he penned a tongue- in- cheek article named "Plan Plots of a Privy of Perfection." In the article, he described in detail his invention, the first flushing water closet. He erected one at Kelston, near Bath, England. The water closet, for the most part, worked, and the Queen had Sir John install a water closet in the Royal Palace. The Queen was so pleased with her new convenience, that she had his article bound, and hung it next to her water closet. One of the many problems with Sir John's water closet was that it was inadequately vented, and sewer gas constantly leaked into the Royal powder room. The Queen remedied this problem by placing bowls of herbs and fragrances around the room (71). The flush toilet, however, would not be deemed "popular" for several hundred years.

The belief that Thomas Crapper invented the first patented flushing water closet is untrue (Kerr Daisy 63). The first patent for the flushing water closet was actually issued to Alexander Cummings in 1775. A watchmaker by trade, Cummings designed a toilet in which the water supply was brought low into the bowl, and some water remained after each flush. "The advantage of this water closet," he stated, "depends upon the shape of the bowl." The Cummings water closet was generally made of copper. It was a great improvement, but the seal at the bottom of the toilet leaked, continually emitting sewer gases into the home (Wright 107). No one was aware at that time, that sewer gases were highly explosive, as well as great bacteria carriers. Other inventors sought to change both of those problems. Joseph Bramah, a cabinetmaker who regularly "fitted-up" water closets, sought to improve Cummings original idea, and a patent was issued to him in 1778. Bramah discovered that by replacing Cumming's string valve closure with a crank-type mechanism, he would essentially get an air tight seal between the toilet and what ever offending odors may be lurking beneath it. There were some problems with this new toilet, however. The flushing action failed quite often, it was incredibly noisy, and the seal would dry up if the toilet was not used often enough. Although Bramah installed over 6,000 toilets by 1797, without a tight seal, the sewer gas problem remained (107).

By 1860, people around Europe were tired of the odor from the sewer gases escaping into their homes. Along came the inventor Henry Moule, with his patented Earth Closet. This wonderful commode dispensed dirt or ashes on to the offensive materials, rendering them odorless. The problem with Moule's invention was that the contents had to be emptied by hand. People bought the earth closet in great numbers though, because they could hardly stand the stench in their own homes from their previous toilet experiences (208).

Thomas Crapper, an industrious plumber, opened his shop on Marlborough Street in London in 1861, and aptly named it The Marlboro' Works of Thomas Crapper & Company (Reyburn Wallace 11). Crapper continuously tested toilets at Marlboro Works, so much so that he had a 250 gallon water tank installed on the roof of his building (17). Crapper's claim to fame is the improvements that he made to the water closet. He invented a pull- chain system for powerful flushing, and an air tight seal between the toilet and the floor. He also patented several venting systems for venting the sewer gas by way of a pipe through the roof (50).

Crapper also teamed up with Thomas Twyford, the pottery maker. Twyford changed his pottery assembly lines from turning out tableware to turning out toilets, with Crapper supplying the inner-workings. Twyford also made toilets into art pieces, by molding them into many shapes including dolphins ( 40). The fine porcelain makers Wedgewood and Royal Doulton soon followed suit (Stein Rod). None of the porcelain manufacturers were opposed to the free advertising, as the names of their firms were emblazoned on the toilet, in a conspicuous place (Barlow Ronald 2).

Across the Atlantic, Americans were still using chamber pots, but only in the event of an emergency such as illness or bad weather. Other than that, people used the outhouse, a small building constructed over an open pit with a bench inside into which several holes were fashioned. The user would sit over the hole and relieve himself (Barlow 1). The flush toilet did not gain popularity in the United States until after World War I, when American troops came home from England full of talk about a "mighty slick invention called the crapper." The American slang term for the toilet, "the john," is said to be derived from the flushing water closets at Harvard university installed in 1735, and emblazoned with the manufacturer's name, Rev. Edward Johns (Reyburn 76).

The flush toilet is an invention of which humanity can be very proud. Without this marvelous contraption, disease would still be rampant and water supplies throughout the world would be undrinkable. The next time you see a toilet, standing at attention in a bathroom, remember the many inventors and plumbers that made it a clean, simple, easy to use device that makes our lives a little easier.

Maureen Francis
(Sylvan's Guest Writer this Week!)

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Respectfully,

Sylvan LMP (Licensed Master Plumber)
"Plumbers Protect The Health Of The World."
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