A FLUSH HISTORY
What do Albert Einstein, Queen Elizabeth 1, Ancient Rome & Egypt all have in common? Riches and jewels? No. Hair on fleek? Well, yes… but no. How about a healthy affection for indoor plumbing? BINGO! Though this royal favorite was not always what’s it’s cracked up to be today (see what we did there?), the history of “The John,” - whose respective nickname would not be established until well after the invention of the first flush toilet in 1596 by Sir John Harington - is a tale of great minds, commonplace hygiene, and several head-scratchers. Without further ado, take a seat as we roll out a few fun facts concerning the history of indoor plumbing!
1. Elizabethan Influencer
The man we know to have invented the first flush toilet, Sir John Harington, also bears a vibrant history of going from exiled imbecile to exceptional inventor. After having been banished from court for his uncanny ability to offend company with his nature for naughty storytelling, it was this forced exile and solitude that led him to put his creativity to better use. Having been forgiven by his godmother, Queen Elizabeth 1, she visited his home (near Bath - funny enough) where he was more than happy to give her Royal Highness a chance to try out a new kind of throne. Amused, amazed and adamant about moving on from her chamber pot days, Queen Elizabeth 1 became the first owner of a private, indoor flush toilet system - custom made to be installed her home quarters. I guess you could say she was the first to visit “The John.”
2. The Term “Loo”
While you’d think the Queen’s favorite things would be all the rage for her constituents, this new commode was not a hot commodity. Chamber pots continued to be the popular means. Now if you’ve been educated on the process of using a chamber pot & what the clean-up entails, you’re equally as puzzled as I am as to how this seemingly logical switch was snickered at. I mean… what? And furthermore… why? Especially when you consider the classy feeling it must have stirred up when the chamber pots needed emptying. Ah, yes, nothing quite says French Aristocracy like a hearty, “Heads up,” bellowed from the windows as you give ample warning to those on the street below that it would be momentarily raining waste. (Just quick step to the side, everyone!) The common cry to let out in this moment was, “Gardez-l’eau,” roughly translated to, “save water!” How celebratory of them and, I suppose, kind. This common outburst was shortened into the nickname we know today as simply, “loo.”
3. Power & Plumbarius
Picturing Ancient Egypt & Rome, considering all the lavishness and seemingly wonderous accomplishments they achieved as great powers of the old world, there is one feat that often goes overlooked in both cultural histories: toilets. Not just toilets, but intricately designed indoor plumbing. Yes, the plumbing systems themselves (with copper piping in Egypt, lead piping in Rome, and both systems being low maintenance for the times) were revered as a tell-tale sign of their people’s wealth & luxury, but not as much as the hands that crafted such luxury. Plumbers were held high regard in both Egypt & Rome. “Plumbarius” was the official title given to the Romans who were skilled in leadwork, or “plumbum.” With being able to gift the world a new kind of privacy in new ways of engineering luxury, it is easy to see what made these skilled workers some of the most eligible bachelors of their time.
There is no question to be had about the brilliant mind of Albert Einstein being fine-tuned to think outside the box. Never one to let his curiosities lay, it was during the U.S. Government’s persecution of assumed communist influence within the science, government and civilian communities during the 1950’s that had him puzzled. Albert believed that in a free country, citizens should be able to carry on with their normal day-to-day lives without the obligation of publicly accounting for political membership. This irritation, frustration and perplexing wave of scrutiny led him to pen a letter to the editor of The Reporter, clearly depicting his stance on the turn of events. In his letter, he claimed,
“If I would be a young man again and had to decide how to make my living, I would not try to become a scientist or scholar or teacher. I would rather choose to be a plumber or a peddler in the hope to find that modest degree of independence still available under present circumstances.”
While Einstein was simply discussing his discord of the situation and circumstances, this letter catapulted his popularity among the Plumbers and Steamfitter’s Union. Shortly after the publication and widespread hysteria over Albert’s sentiments, they granted him both a working card and lifetime membership to Chicago Local 130 Plumbers Union.
5. Aw, Crap
Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Crapper did not invent the flush toilet nor is he the originating source of the slang word, “crap.” Mr. Crapper, in fact, was much more accomplished than having one singular namesake product/patent. A well-respected plumber and founder of Thomas Crapper & Co (whose original moniker/emblem can still be seen on the streets of old London), he held patents for improvements to already existing plumbing fixtures, such as the floating ballcock and turning the then popular S-Curve into a U-Curve. Never a man for small showmanship, Thomas was an instrumental pioneer in turning the improper conversation of bathroom functionalities into a consumer frenzy. His biggest showcasing and possibly highest publicized notoriety came in 1870 with the opening of Crapper’s Marlboro Works showroom – where visitors could peruse the latest & greatest luxury of all bathroom design, including a try-before-you-buy opportunity for those who wished to test the newest models. Mr. Crapper may have not been the first brain to tap into the wonders of reengineering bathroom advances, he is certainly an unforgettable piece of the flush history of indoor plumbing.
With much more colorful tidbits to follow, these are just a few of the fun facts we discovered throughout or research. Tune in next week as we deep dive into disastrous tales of when DIY turns plain dumb. Stay warm out there and don’t forget to smile! :)