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The 21 Greatest Moments in Toilet History

Tired of articles that stink? Check out Movoto's rundown of the most important moments in toilet history. Yes, Doc Brown did make the list.

David Cross

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237 articles, 24 comments



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Have you ever thought about your toilet? I mean, outside of knowing it’s there for all your business needs. You probably haven’t—and that’s a shame. Toilets might not fascinate you, but you should know a little bit about them. Seriously. The idea of sanitation—and, by extension, water closets—changed the face of human history. Without this concept, which we take for granted every day, our lives would be one big pile of… well, you know.

For me, and the rest of Movoto gang, the most obvious way our world would be different without proper sanitation is that large cities such as our beloved San Francisco wouldn’t be nearly as crowded. Maybe it wouldn’t even exist. We shudder when we think of that dark day. But we digress.

We’ve been mulling over the idea of writing about toilets for a while now—mostly because we read a review of Kohler’s Numi, a toilet so outrageously fancy that it makes our eyeballs shake. As we do around these parts, we dug deep to come up a list of the great moments in toilet history. Prepare yourself for the, um, info-dump.

Who Did What for Your Butt? 21 Things You Need to Know About the Toilet

While many of us would want to heap accolades on Sir John Harington as the person who invented the toilet, the truth is that Harington was just one in a long line of people who contributed to the john you know and love. No single person can be credited with making your crapper; instead, it was a long, slow climb over the course of human evolution. Our list of great moments in toilet history:

  • 3,000 BC: Who invented the toilet? We can’t say for sure. Contenders go to the Scots or the Greeks. Recessed stone drains were found in Skara Brae, Orkney, so if you want to start with toilet history, start here.
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  • 2,000 BC: Have you heard of the Indus Valley Civilization? Neither had we before we started our research. This civilization was located in the northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. Archeologists have found that the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro had flush toilets in their houses. Given that the same area is credited for inventing curry, we’re thinking they got a lot of use.
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  • 1596: Harington published Metamorphosis of Ajax. In this seminal piece of bathroom reading, Harington described a new type of water closet. This design featured a raised cistern with a small pipe that ran water into the toilet basin when released from a valve. The ajax was installed in the royal palace—a porcelain throne in the truest sense.
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  • 1775: It took almost two centuries for flushable toilets to really find their groove. In the late 18th century, Alexander Cummings invented the S-trap. You should stop and applaud this man—pretty much right now. Cummings’s crafty mind thought up the idea of an S-shaped pipe, which blocks the odor coming up through the pipe. In our opinion, the “S” in “S-trap” should stand for “stink.” But we didn’t invent the thing.
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  • 1778: Joseph Bramah patented the first practical water closet. It was designed to do battle with London’s cold weather. The patent was for a hinged flap that sealed the bottom of the toilet.
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  • 1851: Water closets went mainstream! Public water closets were exhibited at the Crystal Palace and became the first public toilets. (Public toilets in our area are so disgusting no one goes near them, except for tourists. Poor, poor, San Fran tourists.)
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  • 1871: This website claims that Seth Wheeler of Albany patented perforated toilet paper—also known as an “Improvement in Wrapping-Paper.” That’s a name we can get behind. But, more importantly, a couple of decades later in 1891, Wheeler patented the idea of wrapping the TP around a central tube. Art teachers around the world presumably broke down in tears of joy.
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  • 1880s: You don’t know crap about Thomas Crapper! This dude popularized the siphon system for emptying tanks. The previous system used a floating valve system and was prone to leaks. But no one really cares about that, so we’ll get to the good tidbit. Any similarities between Thomas Crapper’s surname and the word “crap” are coincidental. The word “crap” first appeared in 1846,
    long before Crapper was getting his hands dirty.
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  • 1890: Toilet paper is real! Rejoice! OK, so toilet paper was probably used before this time, but Joseph Gayetty is considered the father of modern, commercially available toilet paper. He sold his wares in stacks with a watermark of his name. Today, advertisers are still using the concept of a captured market to pimp their stuff. What’d people use before the paper square? A brief list: wool, lace, hemp, sand, moss, maize, fruit skins, corncobs, and seashells (we can only hope this is where Demolition Man got the concept).
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  • 1917: Macrel Duchamp debuted “Fountain,” a signed urinal, and called it art. There was outrage; rabble, rabble, rabble.
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  • 1917: It was a big year for toilets. Toto, the world’s largest toilet manufacturer, was founded. Toto is responsible for the Washlet, the world’s first electronic toilet./li>
     

  • 1955: Doc Brown, the mad scientists from the “Back to the Future” series, fell off his toilet, thunked his head on his sink (he was hanging a cuckoo clock at the time), and dreamed up the flux capacitor. Subsequently, Marty McFly took his red vest on the sweetest time-travel adventure this side of “Doctor Who.”
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  • 1977: This was the day the music died! Okay, maybe not that music. In 1977, Elvis Presley was found dead next to his toilet, which he had fallen off. Tears are still being shed over what is admittedly a pretty crappy way to die.
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  • 1992: Not all of us remember this great change in toilet history. In 1992, Congress passed the Energy Policy Act. This law required common flush toilets to reduce the amount of water they used from 7 gallons to 1.6 gallons. Double flushing became a thing.
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  • 1996:The movie scene that made most of us cringe. Ewan McGregor’s character in “Trainspotting,” Renton, climbs out of “the worst toilet in Scotland.” We don’t want to talk about it. Really, at least one of us will get sick—probably the person writing this.
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  • 1997: Our favorite holiday character, Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo, debuts. Was the gang over at South Park taking the idea of toilet humor to the next level? We think so.
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  • 2001: Jeweler Lam Sai-wing built a 24-carat, solid gold bathroom which included—you guessed it—an auric toilet.
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  • 2007: NASA spent $19 million on a Russian space toilet. Interestingly, a NASA spokesperson said it was cheaper than building one on its own.
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  • 2007: United States Senator Larry Craig was arrested for lewd conduct in the men’s restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Craig popularized the idea of the “wide stance.” People everywhere contemplated their personal stances on the matter.
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  • 2011: Toilet technology got serious! Kohler’s Numi toilet is supposedly the world’s most expensive commercially available deuce tank. It costs $6,400 and comes with about a bazillion features. Among the most impressive: A self-cleaning bidet with controls for temperature and water pressure; heated parts, and built-in speakers.
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  • 2012: Not quite Disneyland: Last year, a museum in South Korea opened that glorifies the toilet. Its official name is the Restroom Cultural Park. It was founded and created by the first president of the World Toilet Association, Sim Jae-duck, who was reportedly born in an outhouse. We’re not making this stuff up folks.

What will 2013 hold for commode? Maybe someone will think of a way to use the amazing product below to usher in the next big movement in toilets. It doesn’t take a genius to think of the possibilities.


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posted on: March 19, 2013
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