The History of the Bathroom, Revisited

A toilet in a white sterile bathroom.

seksan Mongkhonkhamsao / Getty Images

Almost every book you read on the history of the toilet talks about, well, the toilet. In fact, the actual object is almost trivial; otherwise everyone would have one instead of one third of the world going without. The problem is what it is connected to, both its input and its output. In honor of World Toilet Day, here is a history of the toilet in its milieu, the bathroom.

The History of the Bathroom Part 1: Before the Flush

Victor Hugo wrote in Les Miserables that "the history of men is reflected in the history of sewers."... The sewer is the conscience of the city. Everything there converges and confronts everything else. " It has not changed much since Victor Hugo's day. More in TreeHugger

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The History of the Bathroom Part 2: Awash In Water and Waste

In 1854 there was a major outbreak of cholera in Soho, London. Nobody knew what caused cholera, but John Snow carefully mapped the location of every victim, (documented wonderfully in Stephen Johnson's book The Ghost Map) and figured out that the focus of the epidemic was a community pump. He removed the handle, forcing residents to get their water elsewhere, and the epidemic ended. It turned out that there was a leaky cesspit only a few feet away from the pump. More in TreeHugger


The History of the Bathroom Part 3: Putting Plumbing Before People

The really amazing thing about this standard "bathroom" from 1915, ninety-seven years ago, is how much it looks like the standard bathrooms of today. How did it get this way, and how did we get stuck in such a rut? More in TreeHugger.

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History of the Bathroom Part 4: The Perils of Prefabrication

Bucky Fuller wrote: "It is an object of my invention to provide a compact, light prefabricated bathroom which may be readily installed either in a dwelling under construction or in a dwelling that is already built." Why didn't it catch on? More in TreeHugger

alexander kira bathroom sink image
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The History of the Bathroom Part 5: Alexander Kira and Designing For People, Not Plumbing

Have a look at your sink after you brush your teeth or shave. There is stuff all over it that you have to clean up. You can't wash your hair in it. Alexander Kira of Cornell University looked at the bathroom sink, and toilet and tub, in the early sixties and was appalled. More in TreeHugger

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History and Design of the Bathroom Part 6: Learning from the Japanese

Siegfried Gideon wrote:

The bath and its purpose have held different meanings for different ages. The manner in which a civilization integrates bathing within its life, as well as the type of bathing it prefers, yields searching insight into the inner nature of the period....The role that bathing plays within a culture reveals the culture's attitude toward human relaxation. It is a measure of how far individual well-being is regarded as an indispensable part of community life.

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urine separation toilet

History and Design of the Bathroom Part 7: Putting A Price on Poop and Pee

I took some serious abuse in comments when I wrote Gates Foundation Throwing $42 Million Into The Toilet, questioning whether we needed a high-tech toilet solution. Commenters wrote: "This article is a disgrace and a sham." But I was not ridiculing it. I was trying to make a point that high tech solutions are not always the most appropriate, and that economic and social systems have existed for centuries to deal with poop and pee, because the stuff had real economic value. More in TreeHugger

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The History and Design of the Bathroom Part 8: Pulling It All Together

Over the last few weeks I have tried to pull all of the disparate ideas for the bathroom together and come up with a functional and practical set of ideas. Here is a summary of them all, in one bathroom that you can't have; the components don't exist. But they could easily. More in TreeHugger