Most of us do not consider the humble beginnings of the modern flush toilet. However, this device has had a profound impact on our culture and health. Like most inventions that make a mark on society, this one had to wait for another innovation to take place.
Late Renaissance Era
In the 1700's a watchmaker and inventor by the name of Alexander Cummings came up with an S-shaped valve. The valve uses water to seal off the sewer gasses from the toilet bowl. That same contraption can be seen today under the tank in your toilet.
Once the odors and fumes from the sewer could be effectively stopped, the modern flush toilet was widely marketed in London and Great Britain. It then expanded to America and the rest of the world.
The toilet, added by improvements in sewer design and capacity did a lot to improve the general health by effectively getting rid of human waste and reducing contamination and the opportunity for disease to spread.
Before the flush toilet, outhouses and chamber pots were the only means to dispose of human excrement. Outhouses were small buildings constructed over pits where the waste fell. Boards, stones or other materials were used to create a seat for people to sit on while using the outhouse. After a while, the outhouse would be moved and another pit dug when the older one became full or too foul to use.
Chamber pots were bowls that were used to capture waste. Some of these bowls were made of china and cera
mics but also made of different metals. They were often quite elaborate. Chamber pots had the unfortunate need to be emptied, and it was common for people to empty them into the gutters outside their homes. When an area's population grew dense, a pit was dug for all the residents to use creating the cesspool. In agricultural areas, human waste was often repurposed as fertilizer.
The outhouse concept is indeed a quite old one going back as far as the third millennia BCE. Archeologists recently unearthed the oldest latrine in Vietnam. That structure and its attendant artifacts were dated to 1500 BCE.
Found at the site were pieces of fecal matter from both humans and dogs, which provided valuable insight into the diet, disease and parasites of that time and region.
Sanitation in the Modern Era
Without the modern flush toilet and modern sewer technology, our society's growth would be severely limited by the impact of our waste, and disease would still take the lives of countless individuals in spite of medical intervention. This makes the modern flush toilet is a keystone device in the evolution of humankind.
If you're ever having toilet troubles in your Greensboro home call The Plumbing Service Company at (336) 502-8540!