Flush With Relief: A Brief History Of The Toilet

Published February 8, 2015
Updated January 19, 2015

When you think about the inventions that have made the modern world possible, you’re probably thinking about some dumb stuff like airplanes and brain surgery. Modern toilets probably aren’t near the top of your list, but think about this: how many trips to the toilet do you take for every trip you take by plane? And do you ever have to go to the bathroom while you’re flying? Take that, Wright brothers!

Toilets are the unsung heroes of the modern home. Without them, virtually everything about your house would have to be redesigned, from smaller bedrooms to extra doors for late-night access to the outhouse. Surprisingly, for something so convenient and useful, toilets’ fortunes have waxed and waned over the millennia. As a rule, flush toilets and the well-planned sewers that make them possible tend to flourish when a civilization is doing well, only to decline in favor of cesspits and buckets when the schools are closing and governments are collapsing. In a sense, therefore, the history of organized society can be expressed in terms of how and into what people are relieving themselves.

And you thought looking up at the stars made you feel insignificant.

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Flush With Relief: A Brief History Of The Toilet
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Richard Stockton
Richard Stockton is a freelance science and technology writer from Sacramento, California.