Much like the shower, the toilet is a part of our daily lives here in Salt Lake City. This often used, but just as often forgotten part of our household has changed our lives for the better. When researching the shower, we here at Your Plumber Salt Lake City got to wondering…where does the toilet come from? It is such an integral part of our lives today, yet most of us don’t know where they come from. So we looked into it and thought we’d share what we found with you. Below is an abbreviated history of the toilet, starting with our modern toilets and tracing our way back.

Toilets Through The Ages

Today there are many kinds of toilets, and they are still evolving and changing with our needs. Since we are in Salt Lake City, we are going to focus on ‘western’ toilets. Western toilets are what you will find in most United States, and Salt Lake City, homes. What are the very basic parts of the toilet and where did they come from? There is the water reservoir (or tank), connected to a source of water, pressure to force the water through and clean out waste. These connect to the bowl, which has an opening in the bottom which connects to a ‘trap’ that then connects to the household plumbing and ‘fallpipe’. A fallpipe being the pipe that takes the waste from the toilet and into the sewer system.

The most recent major change to toilets was the change to a ‘low-flow’ system in the United States, due to a law passed in 1992. The law basically said that toilets could use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Unfortunately at that time toilets were not made to work with that little water. Since then the companies that make toilets gradually began changing the toilets structure so that the low-flush toilets were able to get rid of all the waste with a minimal amount of flushes. One thing that helped this process is the fact that our toilets used pressurized water to flush. The first toilet to use pressurized water to flush was invented in 1906. This toilet was invented by William Sloane. The only differences between that toilet and our current toilets is the amount of water used, and the type of “trap” right underneath the bowl.

Most toilets today have either a “U” or “J” trap underneath the bowl. The purpose of the trap is to help keep water in the bowl without the use of a ‘door’ or ‘gate’ underneath the bowl, and to keep gas from the sewer from coming up into the house. The traps are named for the letter their shape resembles. The “S trap” was the first one invented, by Alexander Cummings. Mr. Cummings was the first person to hold a patent on the toilet, despite not being to first to develop the toilet.

The first toilet that “flushed” was invented by Sir John Herrington in 1596. Sir Herrington lived in Kelston, England. His toilet was the early version of the ones we use in Salt Lake City, and many other United States homes, today. This toilet had a flush valve much like the one in our toilets tanks today. THe flush valve released water to run through the bowl and carry away the waste. A fun fact about toilet slang: Some say that using the slang word “john” instead of toilet is referring to Sir John Herrington, the inventor of the modern flushing toilet.

Previous to the flushing toilet and the ‘traps’ underneath them, the rooms (or outhouses) with the toilet in them was a very smelly place to be. This is reflected by the name for the medieval bathroom: garderobe. One meaning of the word is closet, but the name also means to ‘guard ones’ robes’. The room with the toilet in it gained this name because the ammonia from the urine was so thick in this room that people would hang their robes there in order for the ammonia to cover the robes and kill fleas. The amount of ammonia came from the fact that there was no water or barrier between where the room and the opening in the toilet down which the waste fell to a pit or sewer of some sort. Basically this version of the toilet was a very permanent outhouse style toilet. A bench with a hole to sit on, connected to a fall pipe beneath. The fall pipe that connected to wherever the designer(s) of the castle had decided the waste would be kept.  This version of the toilet was only for the wealthy classes. People of lesser means made due with a ‘chamber pot’ inside of a little box, stored under the bed, or in the corner of the room. Servants would then have to empty the little pot later on.

It’s very interesting that these toilets had no form of water directly connected to them, especially since civilizations like the Harappan located in what today is known as Pakistan and Northwest India, and  the Skara Brae in Orkney Scotland both had toilets connected to moving water and that was around the time of the third millennium BC.

Before the moving water toilets, Mohenjo-Daria is considered to have the most advanced toilets. This was about 2800 BC. Though the toilet was for the upper classes, it contained the most basic features of our current western toilets. There was somewhere to sit, and underneath that surface was a shaft that connected to either sewer drains or pits where the waste was left. This is much like the middle age toilets, except instead of being in private rooms in castles or large manors, they were built onto the outside of the house. As mentioned before, only the wealthy and powerful could afford to have these toilets. Everyone else either used pots placed in holes in the ground, or just holes in the ground. These are, currently, the earliest versions of the western toilet that archaeologists have discovered.

We must admit, we are grateful not to have to use holes in the ground for our restrooms, or going without even that. Though it has taken a long time for our toilet to reach its’ current state, all the way since 2800 BC, we feel it is an invention well worth the wait.

Remember, if you want to install a toilet, fix a toilet, or unclog one: Your Plumber Salt Lake City is here to help. Contact us today for all your residential, commercial, new construction and remodeling needs.