We use them every day, but we rarely think about how much toilets have shaped our lives. Toilets are not just a place to do our business; they are also a source of health, education, and economic benefits. They also have a rich and fascinating history that reveals a lot about our culture and civilization.
Here are some of the most surprising and shocking facts about toilets that you may not know:
- Around 60% of the world – 4.5 billion people – don’t have a toilet that safely manages human waste at home. This exposes them to deadly diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid, and polio. According to UNICEF, “Without toilets, deadly diseases spread rapidly. Over 750 children under five die every day from diarrhoea caused by unsafe water, sanitation, and poor hygiene.”
- Toilets save lives, improve education, and generate economic benefits. Every dollar spent on sanitation has a return of US$5.50, according to WHO research. Toilets also help girls stay in school by providing them with privacy and dignity during their periods. UNICEF says that “In order to get everyone in the world using toilets, we need to triple our current efforts. That doesn’t just mean more toilets, but creating the desire for people to use them.”
- The first modern toilet prototype was built by a poet named John Harington in 1596 for Queen Elizabeth I, who was his godmother. He called it a “water closet” or “Ajax” (a pun on “a jakes”, slang for toilet). The queen liked it so much that she had one installed in her palace. However, it took another 200 years for the flush toilet to become popular.
- Ancient Chinese and Japanese societies didn’t flush—they recycled. They used human waste as fertilizer for crops, which led to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases. They also had communal toilets where people would squat over wooden buckets or troughs and chat with each other.
- The tomb of a Western Han Dynasty king of China was discovered to contain an early toilet. It was installed there sometime between 206 BC and 24 AD. It consisted of a stone seat with a hole over a cesspit filled with water. The toilet was connected to a system of pipes that could be flushed with water from a nearby reservoir.
But these are not the only amazing facts about toilets. There are many more that show how toilets have influenced human history in various ways, such as:
- Using public toilets in ancient Rome was a social experience. People would sit on long rows of stone benches with holes cut out for their bottoms, and chat with their neighbors while doing their business. They would also share a sponge on a stick dipped in vinegar or salt water to clean themselves.
- Toilets have played a key role in demystifying facts about life in Ancient Southeast Asia and Vietnam. In 2012, the region’s earliest toilet and latrine systems were discovered in the southern Vietnamese region, dating back to 1500 BC. Archeologists were able to analyze the contents to get a sense of diets for both humans and dogs.
- The word “toilet” comes from the French word “toile”, which means “cloth”. It originally referred to the cloth that covered a dressing table where people would groom themselves before going out. Later, it came to mean the whole process of getting ready, including using the chamber pot or commode.
- British engineer Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet, but he did popularize it. He also patented several improvements to the design, such as the U-bend trap that prevents sewer gases from escaping into the bathroom. His name became associated with the device because of his company’s logo: “T. Crapper & Co.”
- Flush toilets aren’t the only kind of toilet. There are many alternative types of toilets that use less water or no water at all, such as composting toilets, pit latrines, bucket toilets, and incinerating toilets. These toilets can be more suitable for areas where water is scarce or sanitation infrastructure is lacking.
Toilets are more than just a convenience; they are a necessity for human health and well-being. They also reflect our culture, values, and history. The next time you use one, think about how far we have come from holes in benches to smart toilets that can analyze your urine and play music.