I am not usually inclined to write about waterclosets/toilets; they are the strictly functional element of the bath. ¬†However, there has been a lot written about them in recent days and I thought I should weigh in. The news has centered around the Bill and Melinda Gates initiative to search for a new toilet that benefits the health and well being of people living in developing countries. According to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, four in ten people worldwide do not have a sanitary way to dispose of their bodily wastes. To solve this problem, the foundation launched an event–the Reinvent the Toilet Fair. Eight teams of engineers competed to develop a super toilet that runs on a “shoestring” and doesn’t need a sewage or water system.

The first flushing watercloset with working parts was invented by Sir John Harrington in 1596. It was nearly 200 years later when the first successful flushing watercloset was created. Of course, the Romans had a sophisticated and elegant sanitary system in Britain using an ingenious construction of piping. Toilet paper was unknown; stones, shells or bunches of herbs were used for this purpose. By the mid 19th century, there were watcloset inventions appearing all the time and the public consciousness on sanitary reform and innovation thrived.

Between the flurry of watercloset inventions of the 1850’s and modest variations, little has changed in 125 years. Recently, however, designers and manufacturers have spent countless research dollars developing modern forms and more comfort with 21st century editions retaining many of the original shapes. The biggest technological improvement has been in the area of water consumption; a few short years ago 9 gallon flushes were the norm and today 1.3 gallons is a mandate.

Bill Gates is after something more technologically advanced for the nearly 2.5 billion people worldwide without sanitary conditions. The lack of this basic element creates an economic and health burden for poor communities and hurts the environment. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation believes that inventing new toilets is one of the most important things we can do to reduce child deaths and disease and improve peoples lives.

I have taken this opportunity to share some images of toilets past and present for your information and enjoyment.

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