History of the Toilet

From ancient Indian drainage channels to a three-pipe water closet, explore the history of the toilet.

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2500 B.C. Many homes in the Harappa civilization of western India have toilets with waterborne drainage channels covered with fired brick.

1700 B.C. Rulers on the Isle of Crete have extravagant bathrooms with hot and cold water and a means to flush away human waste. Public latrines in ancient Rome use flowing water to remove waste.

1596 Sir John Harrington designs and builds the first flush toilet in England. He is so ridiculed by his peers that he gives up his career as an inventor.

1775 Alexander Cummings reinvents the “water closet” and introduces the first S-trap to keep sewer odors from escaping.

1885 Thomas Twyford revolutionizes toilet design by replacing the metal and wood contraptions with an all-porcelain design.

1870 John Randall Mann patents a three-pipe water closet, developing a method to utilize the suction force of a siphon to aid the flush.

Adapted with permission from Environmental Building News, vol. 13, no. 1. To subscribe, contact (800) 861-0954;  BuildingGreen.com .

Toilet facts

• We need only eight gallons of water per day to provide reasonably good health and cleanliness. (World Health Organization)

• Ultra-Low Flush toilets save an average of almost ten gallons of water daily per household, using 52 percent less than the older models. (American Water Works Association)

• Miami’s Pro Player Stadium, home to the Marlins and Dolphins, installed Falcon Waterfree urinals. They estimate a water savings of 100,000 gallons per sell-out game.

• In households where water-conserving plumbing fixtures have not been installed, toilets use an average of 20.1 gallons of water per person per day. In homes with water-conserving fixtures, toilets use an average of 9.6 gallons per day. (American Water Works Association)