A Complete History of the Toilet

There is some misinformation about the history of the toilet. Did Thomas Crapper really invent the modern day toilet? Was the toilet first invented in the sixteenth century? Who was the first person to use a flush toilet? These and other burning questions about the modern day toilet are answered in this article.

In recent history the toilet has been a center of attention when it comes to water conservation. A few decades ago, toilets used 7 gallons of water per flush. Now there are toilets available that use as little as .8 gallons per flush.

In developed countries, most homes have toilets. The history of the toilet in the last few centuries has led us to this end. Most people shudder at the thought of using an out house. It was not that long ago that this was a common practice.

Thomas Crapper's Role in the History of the Toilet

With a name like that, most people would jump to the conclusion that he must have been involved in inventing the toilet. The next conclusion would be that the slang word 'crap' (referring to human waste) had to originate with him.

Sorry, wrong on both conclusions. Thomas Crapper did hold patents on some toilet parts. The ball cock being the most notable. He was even guilty of borderline false advertising in the nineteenth century when his adds implied that he had invented the siphonic toilet.

What he did do was manufacture and promote the toilet as a sanitary device. Urban legend has credited him with the invention of the modern toilet erroneously. I am also sure his descendants are glad that 'crap', coming originally from the French word crappe, did not originate with him either.

Who Did Invent the Toilet?

Most would tell you that John Harrington invented it in 1596 to win favor with Queen Elizabeth. However the idea did not catch on and it was not until the end of the eighteenth century, that a patent was taken out. In 1775 Alexander Cummings invented the S Trap that is still used in modern toilets. In 1778 Joseph Bramah invented a toilet that is very similar in functionality to the ones we use today.

Thomas Twyford invented the first one piece china toilet using the s trap siphon design. Since that time there have been incremental improvements. In 1861 Thomas Crapper started producing toilets and made minor improvements on designs that were already in existence. In the late 1800's the use of flush toilets became more common in Europe and the United States.

Modern Development in the History of the Toilet

In the early twentieth century the tanks were lowered and put right on top of the bowl, similar to the ones we use today. Prior to that, tanks were mounted high on the wall to take advantage of gravity to generate pressure. Now you can pay extra and get a retro toilet with a high tank. Go figure.

From the 1960's until now it has been all about water usage. Toilets have gone from using as much as seven gallons per flush to using as little as .8 gallons with the newer pressure assisted models. This has not been without problems. Reducing the amount of water without improved engineering has resulted in toilets that have to be flushed more than once or that are prone to clogging.

In 1992 the federal government in the United States stepped in and mandated that toilets use no more than 1.6 gallons per flush. At first all the manufacturers did was lower the amount of water in the toilets via various methods. Toilets made this way clogged regularly and often required multiple flushes. Bowls and siphoning configurations were changed and the flushing improved.

Now we have some very good toilets that flush properly with 1.6 gallons using just gravity. Some pressure assist models can flush liquids and leave the bowl clean with only .8 gallons of water. This is considered to be a green initiative and lowers water costs for homeowners.

Using the First Toilet - Who Was It?


Was Queen Elizabeth privileged with the first use of a flush toilet? Well, actually, no. Archaeologists have found evidence of flushing toilets as far back as 2,500 B.C.E. Flush toilets were used in both China and India in ancient times. The Romans also had flush toilets.

For an unknown reason the use of flush toilets was lost with the fall of the Roman Empire. So to most the invention of a toilet in 1596 would certainly seem like something new.

History of the Toilet Summary

The history of the toilet is not something you would take night classes to learn about. It is a common item in practically every home in many countries. Knowing a few facts about the toilet is not a bad thing. Being able to refute a common misconception about who actually invented the toilet could be useful at some point.