Is that plumbing fixture a toilet….or water closet? That might depend on where you live. In the U.S. we typically use the term “toilet” but in the U.K. and many parts of Europe, they would call that plumbing device a water closet (or, they might use the acronym “WC”).
Water closet is an early term that refers actually to the room (a small room – or “closet” – usually located inside the house) which housed a waste disposal device that used water to accomplish it’s purpose (flush the waste) – hence the term “water closet”. Over time, the term water closet has evolved in usage to describe both the room where the fixture is located – including larger rooms that nowadays have not just a toilet but also a shower/tub and sinks – and the toilet itself. In fact, many plumbing fixture manufacturers still refer to the toilet as a water closet, or WC.
The first modern-day water closet, or toilet, is attributed to the English inventor Sir John Harrington (1561 – 1612). Harrington, who was a godson of Queen Elizabeth the 1st, was decades ahead of his time. Although the device was a huge improvement over the privy (also called an outhouse) which consisted of a plank, a bucket, and a small drafty shed somewhere on the property (but not usually in very close proximity to the house – for obvious reasons), or the even more primitive methods of waste disposal (like tossing it into the street!), Harrington’s toilet was surprisingly not well accepted. Ridiculed by English society for his “foolish” device, ultimately only two were ever built, one used by Queen Elizabeth and the other by Harrington himself. It would be over two hundred years before Alexander Cummings would resurrect, and improve on, Harrington’s invention. This time, however, the device was well received and others quickly followed Cummings’ lead, adding improvements to each generation of water closet until we find ourselves with today’s modern, highly functional and highly sanitary toilets – usually several in every Phoenix home!
But, interestingly, this “modern” toilet was not the first time water had been used in the process of waste disposal. Some very ancient cultures had quite advanced waste management systems. Ancient Rome, for instance, had a latrine system (like that pictured to the right) – an early form of toilet. And flush toilets – a ground-floor latrine with an overhead water reservoir – are known to have been in use in Knossos, the capital city of ancient Crete, during the 18th century BC, and even earlier throughout the Indus Valley Civilization, c. 26th century BC.
By the time of the dark ages, however, this knowledge had been lost and sanitation took a giant leap backwards. Not until Harrington, and his successors, gave us the modern toilet did waste management regain acceptable sanitation, and comfort, levels.
There you have it – a brief history of the venerable toilet, the most important plumbing fixture in your home when it comes to maintaining sanitary conditions!
If your toilet isn’t working properly, or you need any kind of plumbing repair, give us a call.
Stevens Plumbing Heating & Air Conditioning
PS. For those who are wondering, no, Thomas Crapper was not the inventor of the modern-day toilet. Crapper did, however, make popular the siphon system for emptying the tank, which replaced the floating valve system which was prone to leaks.