Until about 100 years ago, indoor plumbing wasn’t a thing for homeowners. There were pipes and other forms of plumbing in most parts of the world, but indoor plumbing was a reserve for kings and queens. It wasn’t until the 20th century when indoor plumbing was introduced to American households.
How Did the Indoor Toilet Come to Be?
Toilets came first, and other products followed. People wanted to have the convenience of using a toilet from the comfort of their own homes. So, between 1,500 and 1,000 B.C., people invented the first indoor toilet in Crete. This was the first place with underground sewage systems. Their drainage systems were also highly advanced, so they could accommodate the flushing water closet.
Egyptians also took part in developing indoor plumbing. They installed bathrooms and many other plumbing fixtures in their tombs. According to them, the dead should be supplied with the necessities of everyday life, such as bathrooms.
Another discovery was from between 200 B.C. and 25 A.D. This was a toilet designed for a Chinese king from the Western Han dynasty. Around that time, flushing water closets were only used by kings and queens.
All throughout the Middle Ages, chamber pots acted as toilets, and people would toss their waste out of their windows. In 1596, Sir John Harrington designed the first flush toilet in the U.K. He did this for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth I. However, the queen never used the toilet because she feared that it would make funny sounds. Sir John Harrington also installed one toilet in his own house.
Even though the toilet was invented many hundreds of years ago, the first patent for a flushing toilet was awarded to Alexander Cummings in 1775. From there, many hotels and houses started installing a toilet. However, these were only homes belonging to royals and the wealthy in the community.
After the toilet, the next item people needed was toilet paper. Until 1850, people used corn cobs and catalogs in place of toilet paper. The situation was dire, and catalogs even came with a hole so that people could hang them in their bathrooms after reading.
Joseph Gayetty invented the first toilet paper in 1857, and he sold it commercially. In the 1860s, three people (Clarence, Edward, and Thomas Scott) designed and sold toilet paper. But, there was a problem; the toilet paper sometimes came with splinters. It was in the 1930s when the first two-ply toilet paper hit the market.
The Popularity of Early Indoor Plumbing
Before 1800, most people never had an idea of how indoor plumbing worked. However, in the early 1800s, people started associating poor sanitation with illnesses. Still, most people couldn’t afford indoor plumbing. Rather, it was a luxury for very rich people.
In 1828, Isaiah Rogers brought indoor plumbing closer to the people when he built eight water closets in the prestigious Tremont Hotel located in Boston. Tremont Hotel became the first hotel to have indoor plumbing.
In 1833, the White House also received an upgrade. It added running water in its main floor. The upper floors never received a plumbing upgrade until President Franklin Pierce came into office. Later, soap was introduced to maintain the hygienic conditions in the bathroom.
Challenges That Faced Indoor Plumbing in Its Infant Days
In 1885, indoor plumbing suffered a major setback. The Chicago cholera outbreak of 1885 was associated with sewage from indoor sanitation areas. According to stories, a massive storm led to sewage being washed from the Chicago River all the way to Lake Michigan.
Lake Michigan was the main source of drinking water for Chicago. The stories that went around at that time were that the sewage contaminated the lake water, resulting in almost 90,000 deaths. However, this was later established to be not true.
The city of Chicago formed the Chicago Sanitary District, which was instructed to find ways to keep the city clean. However, the formation of the Chicago Sanitary District wasn’t in response to a pandemic. According to official records, cholera took the lives of 678 people in 1849 and 1,500 people in 1854. These were the official numbers, and they weren’t anywhere near 90,000.
Although the pandemic myth is so common, it never happened, according to officials. This would’ve set back the adoption of indoor plumbing, but it ultimately didn’t.
Indoor Plumbing in the Twentieth Century
The adoption of indoor plumbing by the masses was a move to improve hygiene. The movement started in the 1930s when medical professionals linked many diseases to poor sanitary health. After this realization, the United States government set hygienic guidelines and came up with plumbing codes to guide the installation of plumbing systems in homes.
After the popularity of indoor plumbing systems, Alfred Moen designed the first single-handle tap for home use. This tap is still in use today. In the 1940s, war caused a scarcity of steel, iron, and copper. This scarcity led to the use of plastics and cast iron to create plumbing systems. This move ultimately led to the creation of better plumbing materials.
Most houses received indoor plumbing between the early and mid-20th century. However, there were still households that waited until the 1960s to add indoor plumbing. After that, most homes in the U.S. had running water.
Did the Shower Come as Early as the Toilet?
Showers came way after the toilet. However, the idea behind showers was there in ancient Greece. The Greeks used to spray the bather with water from a pipe. The Romans also had an iteration of the modern shower. They used to socialize in public bathhouses. People would even pay to take a bath in a public bathhouse.
The mechanical shower was an invention of William Feetham in 1767. This shower was simple. He used a pump to force water to a bucket hanging over the bather’s head. The bather would then pull a chain, and the bucket would release water. There was one problem with this shower, though; it could not pump hot water to the bucket. People didn’t like using cold water, and so the system wasn’t as popular.
When indoor plumbing became popular in the 20th century, a more advanced version of the shower also came to life. It led to the development of plumbing as a career as well.
What About the Drinking Fountain?
The drinking water fountain is also a modern invention. It came to be about a hundred years ago. The drinking water fountain is an invention of Luther Haws and Halsey Willard Taylor. A plumbing contractor from the 1900s, Halsey Willard Taylor wanted a drinking fountain that would make drinking water safe for all. His father died of typhoid when he consumed contaminated water.
After his father’s death, Taylor saw children drinking water from the same tin cup that they tied to a water faucet. He knew a health disaster was looming, and that was when he created the drinking fountain.
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