Toilets: Then and Now, Part 02; More Toilet History

(Latin: toile to toilette in Middle French)

If you consider the contribution of plumbing to human life, the other sciences fade into insignificance.

—James Gorman

Public Habits and Attitudes, Past and Present

  • In the past, with the absence of proper toilet facilities, people had to defecate and urinate wherever they could.
  • Defecating on the road, open spaces, or just easing themselves in the river was very common [actually, this is still going on in our modern world].
  • While the authorities were educating people to have private places for defecating, and getting it cleaned, in actual practice there was total disorder.
  • Squalor and filth abounded in cities.
  • The rich used wool or hemp for wiping while the poor used grass, stone, or sand, or water depending upon the country and weather conditions or social customs.
  • Later, the use of newspapers or catalog pages were also in common use.
  • The final solution to the problem of wiping was found in 1857, when Joseph Cayetty invented toilet paper in the U.S.A.
  • This invention has enabled human beings to have a tissue paper, which is convenient to use, is absorbent, as well as compact, and within reach while defecating.
  • In India, and some other countries, it is very common to use water for cleansing.
  • Household hygiene habits of ordinary people left much to be desired and still does.
  • Public Toilets and People

  • In each society from time to time governments have felt the need to provide public toilet facilities to those who could not afford to have individual toilets in their living quarters.
  • The public toilets have a long history in a number of countries, most of which were constructed and managed by municipalities, but there was an all around disgust with their poor maintenance, vandalism, and lack of basic facilities.
  • Since hygienic conditions in public toilets were bad, people preferred to do open defecation.
  • This has been true in most countries and still is.
  • It was in 1872, that the municipalities in France asked private companies to manage public toilets for a lease period of twenty years.
  • Ground floor owners were also being requested to construct latrines for use of the population.
  • At the beginning of the century most of the public toilets have gone underground in Europe, but in India, China, and other countries; toilets are still depositing on the ground.
  • Law and Citizens

  • In 1519 the provincial government of Normandy in France required the provision of toilets compulsory in each house.
  • The French government also passed a parliamentary decree to make cesspools in each house compulsory.
  • In England the first sanitation law was passed in 1848.
  • Toilet Technologies

  • The eighteenth century was a century of toilets.
  • Despite the invention of the "water closet" by John Harrington in 1596, this was not adopted on a large scale for almost 182 years.
  • The delays in actual use of the invention is common in human history.
  • During this period people used "earth closets" or "out houses".
  • In these toilets, instead of water, earth was used; so the problem of cleaning remained.
  • At the same time chamber pots, close stools, and open defecation remained.
  • From 1880 onwards, the emphasis has been more on aesthetics to make cisterns and bowls decorative.
  • It was in 1880 that the toilet curtains made their appearance.
  • The trend was called the age of "Belleepoque" in France and Edwardian (opulence) in England.
  • Sometime during 1890, the first cantilever type of toilet came into existence.
  • Since then the world has not witnessed any significant technical advances except for some changes in the shapes of toilets and a reduction in the quantity of water usage.
  • About 1900, the introduction of the "bathroom" came into vogue in Europe.
  • Unlike in the past when latrines were tucked away in attics to keep them away from the noses and eyes of family members and society; the twentieth century has placed the toilet in the home.
  • While the provision of toilets in houses solved one household problem of cleanliness, the challenge remained as to how to dispose of human waste at the city level.
  • This was also solved when sewerage systems were introduced. Haussmann in 1858, described the sewerage system. He said that "the underground galleries which are the organs of the big city will work in the same way as organs of the body, without being revealed".
  • Though the challenge to provide toilet facilities have been totally overcome in rich countries, it has still to be met in developing countries like India, China, and others.

—Compiled from several sources of information including:
"History of the toilet"; Sunday News; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; August 6, 2006.
"Toilet talk, from the scholars, The history and politics of public restrooms" by Kate Tuttle;
The Boston Globe; Boston, Massachusetts; December 6, 2010.
"It's time we declared war on our dirty toilets"; New Straits Times
by Johan Jaaffar; January 3, 2009.
"Toilets" by Judith Sims; Environmental Encyclopedia; January 1, 2003.

Arrow pointing to words and info sections See the Toilets: Directory of Articles for more presentations.