Did You Know?: Toilet History

How long do you think toilets have existed?

Given how much of a staple a toilet is in our society, one would assume that such an innovation has existed for a reasonable amount of time. However, that statement could likely be false, depending on what your concept of reasonable is.

The modern toilet, as we know it, has remained unchanged for quite some time, and rightfully so. Many people associate the material of a toilet with porcelain; however, toilets are more commonly made with something known as vitreous china. Vitreous china and porcelain are relatively similar in that they initially use a ceramic material. However, vitreous china takes the material one step further by applying an enamel coating. This enamel coating is fused to the ceramic material – this not only adds a great looking shine, but also increases general durability as well. It is also non-porous, which naturally makes it highly resistant to water.

The toilet has undergone substantial development over a long period of time; the modern flush toilet was first publicly showcased in England, in the year 1851. Is that far enough? Absolutely not. In the 18th century, more specifically during the 1770s, a working concept comparable to our current structure of a flush toilet was created by Alexander Cumming during the Industrial Revolution. This paved the way for continual advancement, as some of the internal mechanics (most notably, the S-trap) invented in the 18th century are still used today.

However, that doesn’t suffice for covering the entire scope of time that our toilets are in existence. Concepts of a flushing toilet had actually existed in the 16th century, but were simply ignored. A structure of waste removal with toilets was known to be in use during the 12th century, with lavatories being built above rivers to assist in the drainage of sewage. There are even signs of toilet use dating all the way back to Ancient Egypt.

This means that toilets have been around in some way or form for over multiple millennia, even though they’ve remained relatively unchanged for a rather long period.