May
18
2009

Who Invented the Toilet

Toilets are perhaps one of the most useful inventions of all time, at least to anyone who has ever used one, yet despite their function are a fairly recent invention in the history of humankind. There are several versions of toilets, from bed pans, to deep holes dug in the ground, thru to the modern toilet with a flushing mechanism as we know today.

Who first invented a container to be used for human waste is lost in the mists of time, and probably dates back to the first pottery workshops and infirm members of society but archeologists consider these to have been normal pots that were used in difficult circumstances but never intended for the purpose. In ancient India and parts of the Middle East public toilets that used water to wash away the waste have been known for 4,600 years and were flushable toilets with sophisticated sewage systems.

sir john harrington Who Invented the Toilet

The first modern toilet with a flushing mechanism and a cistern that would automatically stop the running water after the waste had exited the bowl wasn’t invented until 1596 by Sir John Harrington in England. He was a godson of England’s Queen Elizabeth and invented a water closet that was universally ridiculed by his peers for being a rather useless invention. By all accounts Sir John and Queen Elizabeth were the only owners of a Water Closet (WC) in their day.

The idea of a flushable toilet never completely disappeared, and in 1777 another Englishman named Samuel Prosser registered a patent for a toilet sysem that used a plunger to empty a cistern and thus evacuate the bowl. In the same year an improvement to the design was patented by Joseph Bramah. Between 1777 and 1852 a number of designs were invented and patents registered.

toilet Who Invented the Toilet

1819 was a defining moment in the history of the flushing toilet, this was the year that the silent siphon discharge system was invented by Albert Giblin, but in 1852 the s-trap was finally invented preventing waste odors escaping back into the bowl by the simple use of clean water filling the low point of the bend in the s-trap, a design that is basically the same as modern toilets with few modifications.

An Englishman by the name of Thomas Crapper who was a plumber in London bought the rights to manufacture Giblin’s toilet design and stamped the words ‘T Crapper & Co’ on the bowl of his toilets which were then used by British servicemen during the first world war. The informal name for a toilet, the crapper, is derived from soldiers using Thomas Crapper’s surname instead of the longer more correct name water closet.



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Peter is the founder of WhoGuides - The History Website. He's always happy to share his passion for history. Use the contact form if you want to get in touch with him.

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