Nowadays, when you get 'the urge' many people take for granted the fact that they don't have to run to the nearest stream to relieve themselves, or walk down a street littered with the waste of their neighbors.
From the first water pipes in the Indus River in India that date back to 4000-3000 BC to the first documented evidence of copper pipes used to build sophisticated bathrooms with irrigation and sewerage systems inside Egyptian pyramids in 2500BC, the most important advancements in plumbing history occurred over several millennia to contribute to what we now have as our modern-day plumbing.
In communities where water resources, infrastructure or sanitation systems were insufficient, diseases spread and people fell sick or died prematurely. You can understand why when you realise that the options for ‘going to the toilet’ in early humanity involved squatting where you stood and subsequent cleaning, by hand, using common water sources, if you were so lucky.
Throughout history, people have devised systems to make getting water into their communities and households and disposing of (and later also treating) wastewater more convenient.
One of plumbing’s crowning achievements, the toilet, or water closet, tackled one of the most significant health risks to any human settlement, the safe management of human waste.
The honour of producing the first toilet goes either to the Scots (in a Neolithic settlement dating back to 3000 BC) or to the Greeks who constructed the Palace of Knossos (in 1700 BC) with large earthenware pans connected to a flushing water supply.
In the late-1500s Sir John Harrington, amateur poet and godson of Queen Elizabeth I, designed the first flushing toilet whilst banished from court for telling risqué stories. The contraption included a seat, a bowl and a water cistern behind the seat.
It took almost 200 years before the prototype for the modern toilet was first developed by Scottish inventor Alexander Cummings in 1775BC. Sir John Harrington’s water closet was able to flush, but it did not have a water trap. Cummings’ prototype included an S trap (which was a sliding valve between the bowl and the trap) that allowed some water to stay in the bowl. As a result, the water no longer smelled like sewage, and the bowl could be easily cleaned after every use.
So the next time you find yourself needing to utilise ‘the facilities’, be thankful for plumbers and the work they do to to protect the health of the nation.