As per last week’s heads up on the bottoms down. We should point out from the very start, it’s a history that relates more to the west as sitters, than the east who predominantly squat (or other regions where people still squat) – as we all did once upon a time!
Nevertheless, with the exception of 25% of the world’s population who still have no access to basic sanitation, the evolution of the toilet [sit down, or squat versions + urinals for men] has been relatively slow – and as you’ll read, has also been relatively painful. The illustration above, from one of my books on the subject about, ‘The History of the Toilet’, shows that after the creation of humanity, all of who squatted – some bright spark designed and invented the first sit down toilets… Thousands of years ago in Mesopotamia first by the Sumerians, the Indus-Harappan, and Egyptian civilisations, then Greece, and a while later add Rome to the list – and so on and so forth, as many would have read at school. For example, the phrase ‘you got the wrong end of the stick‘ derived from the sponge on the stick that Romans used to wipe their bums, dip it in a bucket, and pass it on – I guess you’re now picturing that phrase somewhat differently!
Again, as in the illustration above, the first sit down toilet designs were a row of seats with horseshoe shaped holes, they were unisex, and the ablutions were washed away to the river, with their clever drainage/sewer systems, albeit they were polluting their rivers in the process. Bearing in mind how many thousands of years ago this was, a) there’s been relatively little progress, b) why there was no particular loo taboo then, how did that change, c) as it became obvious that bad sanitation and poor sewerage systems killed people – again, why such slow progress and, d) why no one ever asked the question about such a dramatic posture change, ‘so how does it affect the health of humanity to suddenly go from squat to sit?’ Guess what, same questions as above today, yet only some more definable progress in the last 180 odd years,… err wtf?
For example, Sir John Harrington is accredited with the first mechanical flushing system in 1596. But, to highlight the glacial pace, new design, development and infrastructure barely started to make an impact again for another 4000 years, way up until the mid 1800s when we learn that as a result of London’s ‘The Great Stink’ sewers and sanitation jumped up the ‘to do’ list, and around the same time the first septic tank was invented, and then Thomas Crapper became a marketing legend, which led to all sorts of tweaks to toilet and flush designs, aided by Alexander Cummings, Mr U or S Bend one might say. It was a bums rush of activity, infrastructure and invention!
As you can see, even with this brief insight – this is a big subject. After the mid 1800s progress lowed gain in real terms. For which reason this brief history is a two parter, no. 1 [this week] and no. 2 [next] explaining how the software (so to speak) evolved, as the hardware was introduced. Other inventors and ideas, and how we’re still struggling to cope to this day, and as mentioned at the start, at the same time neglecting 25% of the population who, quite honestly, are far worse off today than many people were all that time ago, over 5000 years earlier.
Until next week… and ‘The Daily Poo!‘ ‘A Potted History of the Toilet’ part 2.’