History buffs study just about anything, but often overlooked is the story of modern plumbing. We seldom think about it much and just about never utter the word “sanitation.” But it did exist, even if in only primitive form. The need for waste disposal is the history of mankind (from caveman to gentleman) in effect with major advancements occurring in ancient Greek and Roman times and those amazing aqueducts. However mundane a subject, a discussion of what is often taken for granted merits a minute of attention.
We have to take a breath and be thankful for the obvious sometimes. Sanitation has come a long way from a hole in the ground in an outhouse to the porcelain commode. We no longer have to even use euphemisms for it. The lavatory, loo, or “water closet” are just about obsolete except maybe in retro historical novels. Yes, there are still primitive devices where you stand on a piece of wood or ceramic and look down lest you spill a drop. These are found here and there in third world countries where toilets often separate the rich and the poor. But overall, the world is moving toward modern plumbing in order to combat disease from those nasty microbiological elements.
Statistics show that five million people a year die from unclean water. It is a huge issue in the world with concerned environmentalists. It seems to be the right of every human being to have access to clean water. A lot has to be done to eradicate these numbers. We should be grateful indeed for the legacy of those innovators who led the way to sublime cleanliness.
The word toilet comes from the French for cloth or “toile.” It pertains to an item used in personal grooming such as cutting the hair or applying cosmetics. It came to English usage in the 16th century with a wider base meaning to be applied to more than ablutions. Remnants of its origin still exist in the phrase “taking one’s toilette” implying getting ready for the public. It also is part of the connotation of “eau de toilette” or cologne.
Modern plumbing is a gift from the gods in so many ways. From a mere utilitarian ceramic object, the toilet in all its various guises has become customized as a design element in most new homes. You have a choice of materials, sizes, and shapes to accommodate your every whim. When updating a bathroom, a self-cleaning low-water usage model is a must. You also don’t expect must repair or maintenance these days. Upgraded tubing, fittings, and valves make longevity and reliability a no-brainer. Soft or filtered water make rust a thing of the past. Fortunately, we seldom have to greet the plumber at our door.
Dealing with sewage is a distasteful concept and is all but hidden from normal human view. Few have seen a water processing facility or been confronted with one’s views on water treatment for re-usage. It is behind the scenes magic in faraway plants that makes the most base personal needs almost pleasant. We actually get excited about modern toilets with bidets that spray different levels of mist to water sprays that can eliminate the need for paper. Before you know it, the porcelain throne will play music to accompany our perennial deeds.
Celebrating plumbing is not a common practice, but given its importance, why not praise a good thing? We have to credit it with transforming our daily existence in the simplest ways. We now have entire rooms for all our many fixtures including shower, tub, and sink. We want these rooms to be luxurious, comfortable, and supremely clean. It is hard to believe such obsession with health came so late in human history. But it did come with dry toilets, pit latrines, septic tanks, and more. Engineers have been delving into new solutions without our even knowing it.
Paying homage to the ubiquitous toilet is to honor civilized behavior, privacy, and absolute decorum. It is to salute plumbing innovation. Few have to lift those heavy tank lids any more to stem the flow of water onto the floor or to press bulbs and gadgets to make them work. You don’t even have to whisk with a brush every day with the advent of automatic tank disinfectant systems. We can turn the other cheek, pun intended. It is a brave new world of sanitation and hygiene that promises to stay the course and keep us clean unto eternity. Let’s stop taking it for granted.