A Brief History of Flushing Toilets Across the Globe

Brief History of Flushing Toilets Across the Globe

Behind every piece of technology that we enjoy today is a storied past often filled with quirky anecdotes and most of all, a deep-seated desire to meet a need of the period it was invented in. The toilet bowl in Singapore that we've come to know and love has undoubtedly been a blessing to our sanitary hygiene, yet it has often been nothing more than an afterthought. Let's therefore take a closer look at how the flushing toilet came to be.

Whether it's 2022 or back in the Stone Age, Man has always relieved himself the same way. Toilets have been discovered as far back as 3000 BC in Neolithic settlements, as well as ancient Greece in 1700 BC, with large earthenware pans connected to a flushing water supply. Not to be outdone, the Romans took going to the toilet seriously. At around 315 AD, Rome had about 144 public toilets that also doubled as a social event where they would meet with friends and exchange views and catch up on news whilst cleaning themselves up with a piece of sponge tied to a wooden stick. The contraption would then be rinsed in a water channel which ran in front of the toilet and was subsequently reused. It is also thought that the phrase "getting the wrong end of the stick" took inspiration from this.

Who Actually Invented the First Flushing Toilet?Garderobe private cubicle

Sanitary hygiene in Mediaeval England was abysmal ó people would use potties and then simply threw their contents out into the street. "Garderobes" were also accessible by the affluent. They were private cubicles that would empty waste directly into the River Thames. This obviously brought much stench and disease to the entire population. Not too long after, in 1592, it was Sir John Harrington, godson of Elizabeth I, who designed a water closet with a raised cistern and a small downpipe that could flush waste. However, for some reason, his invention went unnoticed for 200 years until Alexander Cummings developed the S-shaped pipe under the toilet basin in 1775 to keep foul odours away. Yes, the same S-shaped pipe that you can find in most toilet bowls in Singapore today.

Overcoming the Great StinkGreat stink of 1858 in Singapore

In the 19th century, Britain was facing another crisis, where the toilet to population ratio was dire, with up to 100 people sharing a single toilet. This caused sewage to spill into the streets and water sources, which found its way back into drinking water supply. This resulted in tens of thousands of deaths from water-borne diseases like cholera. In 1848, the government commissioned "night soil men" to empty each household's waste pit. Our parents and grandparents who lived through the 1950s would probably have heard of those unfortunate men. However, in 1858, a hot summer amplified the stench of rotting sewage, dubbing the period "The Great Stink". A system of sewers was finally built in London and stemmed all related deaths for good.

The Advent of Modern Flushing ToiletsModern Flushing Toilet

It wasn't until the 20th century that technology enhancing flushing toilets finally took off, with inventions such as flushable valves, water tanks resting on the bowl itself, and even toilet paper rolls. The US Energy Policy Act was also passed in 1992, which required all toilets to only use 1.6 gallons of water, prompting toilet manufacturers all over the world to design better low-flush toilets to prevent clogging. TOTO was also right in the thick of that wave of innovation, and continues to evolve the toilet bowl in Singapore. For instance, in 1976, we launched the CS series water-saving, noise-reducing toilet, and in 1980, our very own washlet, toilet seats with a warm-water washing feature - also known as a bidet toilet seat in Singapore. Since then, we have also consistently brought new innovation to toilet bowls, such as the NEOREST EX integrated toilet; CEFIONTECT technology that prevents dirt on toilet bowl surfaces; and EWATER+ deodoriser.

Toilets have come a long way since the dawn of civilisation, and just as they are here to stay for a long time to come, so will TOTO continue to inspire and change the way we use the toilet. For more information about our selection of toilet bowls and bidet toilet seats in Singapore, please visit our website.