They are something that we take for granted but generally don’t talk about much— except when they are out of order. However, toilets are an essential part of our lives, and along with the rest of civilization, they have evolved over millennia. Here is a brief history of these devices.
The Early Days
Prior to roughly 10,000 years ago, no urgency existed to build toilets. Back then, people were hunter-gatherers, nomads roaming in search of food. Once people started forming civilizations, though, they couldn’t just poop in fields and move on—they had to live with the stinky stuff! Historians tell us that the Mesopotamians created the first simple toilets about 4,500 or more years ago. These were brick chairs coated with a water-repellent material. The toilets were situated over pits, where human waste was held. Toilets incorporating the use of water are believed to have appeared in the Indus Valley and on the island of Crete 1,000 years or more later.
The early toilets of the Indus Valley and Crete required people to manually pour water into them to wash the waste away. The first toilet with a flushing mechanism was made by a British writer named John Harington in the late 1500s. However, his invention did not gain widespread popularity because people at that time largely preferred to use chamber pots, which were metal or ceramic containers. After pooping into the small, portable pots, people simply emptied them where they could, often in the streets outside their homes. Flushable toilets gradually caught on thanks to Alexander Cumming. Two centuries after Harington’s invention, Cumming used an S-shaped pipe, which helped reduce the odor of the sewage. His design laid the foundation for the modern toilet.