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the small journal of toilets and an art of living



Evolution of Toilets Through Time: From Cro-Magnon to Modern Day

During the era of Cro-Magnon, hunter-gatherers consumed food where they found it and relieved themselves in the same locations. Their waste disintegrated rapidly in nature.

Around 2500 BCE, the Greeks, pioneers of hygiene, constructed sewage systems and toilets in their cities.

A millennium later, the Romans equipped major cities with aqueducts, sewers, and lavatories. In Rome, public toilets were elaborate rooms adorned with marble or mosaics, serving as places for socializing and conducting business.

In the Middle Ages, lavatories disappeared except in monasteries and convents. Waste was thrown into the streets, leading to epidemics of plague, cholera, and typhoid fever.

From the 17th century, the benefits of water were recognized. At this time, facilities included chamber pots, night pots, and occasionally, commode chairs. Waste disposal was irregular, resulting in strong and unpleasant odors.

In 1596, John Harington, godson of Queen Elizabeth I of England, conceived the flush toilet during his exile. It consisted of a seat over a bowl with a bottom opening sealed by a flap. A rooftop reservoir filled the bowl with water through a system of weights, levers, and pipes.

Two centuries later, in 1775, Scottish clockmaker Alexander Cumming patented a flushing toilet inspired by Harington's design. A siphon was added to the pipe under the bowl, retaining water in the pipe to prevent sewer gases from entering the dwelling.

The 19th century saw the advent of running water and modern toilets. English plumber Thomas Crapper (1836-1910) invented the float valve, enabling automatic opening and closing of the water inlet. The "Thomas Crapper & Co." became a supplier to the British Crown. In 1875, Thomas William Twyford, an English pottery manufacturer, invented the one-piece ceramic flush toilet.

In France, led by Pasteur's work, the establishment of more hygienic systems, including sewer networks, was deemed essential and became mandatory from 1856.

By the late 19th century, Baron Haussmann introduced the flooding evacuation of latrine pits, marking the "water revolution" that led to the flush toilet.

Around 1900, ceramic sanitaryware started becoming commonplace in homes.

The turning point occurred in the 1960s when toilets and bathrooms became standard in individual residences. In France today, almost all metropolitan housing (99.1%) has hot water, indoor toilets, and sanitary facilities (shower or bathtub). In 1984, 15% of homes lacked these basic sanitary amenities according to housing surveys.

Globally, nearly half of the world's population lacks toilets at home or access to a well-managed sanitation system, resulting in contaminated water resources and food chains, causing deaths and epidemics. This is a public health issue, disproportionately affecting the poorest individuals, especially women and girls.

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