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Maybe a better question would be, who invented the first “modern” toilet?  Archaeologists can tell us with some degree of accuracy that latrines with a source of running water to carry away waste have existed as long ago as 5000 years ago.  There is evidence of this form of toilet in many civilizations including Roman, Minoan, Egyptian, Chinese and on the Indian subcontinent.  Other evidence has recently been found in Scotland.

Emergence of the Modern Flush Toilet

  • Outside of chamber pots which existed for thousands of years, the first toilet with a flushing mechanism was introduced in 1596 by Sir John Harrington. Harrington was the godson of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I and he presented his invention to her and installed it in her residence at Richmond Palace.  It’s said that the queen was so afraid of the noise made by the onrushing water, (over 7 gallons) that she never used it.  Toilets of today have been known to make some unusual sounds as well!
  • Not much progress was made to improve the first toilets until 1738 when Englishman J F Brondel introduced the first working toilet with a flush valve. So, if you consider the modern toilet of today is defined by a flush valve, then Brondel is your man.
  • Of course, time doesn’t stand still for the advancement in toilet design and in 1775, Alexander Cummings, a Scottish inventor patented the first toilet. What made Cummings’ design so revolutionary was the introduction of the “S” pipe located below the toilet.  This effectively created a water barrier trap that prevented the foul gasses of the sewer from rising into the home.  Today we still incorporate the “J” or “U” pipe trap barrier in modern toilets.  So perhaps Cummings should get your vote.
  • Just 3 short years later, Joseph Bramah of Yorkshire England patented what many consider to be the first practical toilet or “water closet”. He simply improved on the Cummings patent by introducing hinged valves.  This is very similar to what is used today, and some water closets still are in use on the Isle of White that Bramah installed.
  • Over the next 100 years there were minor modifications and improvements to toilet design and concerns about sanitation led to much more widespread use of the invention. Enter Thomas Crapper in 1880.  If you were to take a poll it’s likely Thomas Crapper would be the one chosen most often as the inventor of the modern toilet. It’s hard not to draw a line between his name and the popular term, “crap”.  However, you’d be wrong.  It’s just one of the bizarre and humorous misconceptions about the toilet.  The term “crap” dates to its first acknowledgement in the Oxford dictionary in 1846.  Crapper did however introduce the ballcock to the modern toilet to control the flow of water to the tank and it’s still in use today.  It is fair to say Thomas Crapper may be the father of the modern toilet.
  • Up to this point toilets had been made of various materials but mostly looked like a wooden cabinet with a hole in the top. This all changed in 1885 when Thomas Twyford, a successful pottery manufacturer created the first single piece, ceramic flush toilet.  Toilets were really getting somewhere!

Improvements would continue to be made on the modern toilet like the vortex self-cleaning toilet and flush rim toilet and are still being made today.

It’s good to know that regardless of what brand or style of toilet you have, if something goes wrong you can always call on the professionals at The Clean Plumbers to fix the problem.