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Medieval toilet. Source: Mikhail / Adobe Stock.

From Pits to Flushes: The Strange History of Toilets (Video)

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Throughout history, human waste disposal has undergone a remarkable transformation. In ancient India, as early as 2500 BC, the Indus Valley showcased a rudimentary toilet and sewer system that was ahead of its time, with rooms dedicated to waste disposal. Egyptians, revered for their water conservation, repurposed bathwater for agriculture. China during the Han Dynasty adopted a unique approach, diverting waste into pig pens, converting it into pig feed and later fertilizer. Romans, ever social, gathered around communal stone benches with holes, utilizing aqueducts to flush away waste, despite occasional rat intrusions and methane-related fires.

Medieval castles featured garderobes, funneling waste into moats or cesspits. The advent of chamber pots brought convenience, but the flush toilet as we know it emerged only in the 18th century, thanks to inventors like Alexander Cumming and John Brahma. Sir John Harington, known for his poetry, dabbled in toilet invention, although his political critiques overshadowed it. Queen Elizabeth I's installation of one of his toilets added an unexpected royal endorsement. Thomas Crapper, while not an inventor, became synonymous with toilet innovations. George Jennings popularized pay-per-use public flush toilets, transforming public sanitation. Finally, the dry toilet, introduced in response to the cholera epidemic, aimed to conserve water and reduce odors but didn't become widespread.

Top image: Medieval toilet. Source: Mikhail / Adobe Stock.

By Robbie Mitchell

Robbie Mitchell's picture


I’m a graduate of History and Literature from The University of Manchester in England and a total history geek. Since a young age, I’ve been obsessed with history. The weirder the better. I spend my days working as a freelance... Read More

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