We all have one – or more – and they are something we don’t talk about on an everyday basis. They have a purpose and have various names – the throne, the bog, the john, the head, the can, the dunny, the loo – and probably a few more that are a bit indelicate to list here.

I am not about to give you a detailed history of them here, but you might consider this as maybe a ‘potted’ version!

In ancient times, people just squatted and did their business in the bushes, and the first records of simple toilets as such came from Mesopotamia, in the late fourth millennium BC. These non-flushing affairs were pits about 4.5 metres deep, lined with a stack of hollow ceramic cylinders about 1 metre in diameter. Users would have sat or squatted over the toilet, and the excrement would have stayed inside the cylinders with the liquids seeping outwards through perforations in the rings. (Can you imagine the smell?)

About 1,000 years later, the Minoans on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean improved the toilet by adding the capacity to flush — although only for the elite. The first known example was in the palace at Knossos, and water was used to wash the waste from the toilet into the sewer system of the palace, and apparently primitive latrines that utilized a constant stream of water to carry away waste date back at least 5,000 years.

Roman public latrines looked much like the Greek ones: rooms lined with stone or wooden bench seats positioned over a sewer. There are no signs of barriers between the toilet seats, but people probably had a measure of privacy thanks to their long garments and the limited windows. It may well have been a social event!

Romans perceived demons everywhere, and some Roman literature refers to ones that lurked in toilets. The demons could cast a spell on you it was said, and when you have this spell you die or you get sick. Not surprising really, they weren’t the healthiest of places, with excrement-filled water flowing upwards during flooding. Explosive gases might also have been a problem, and it was possible that you might walk in and actually see a flame burst out of one of those holes because of the methane gases that built up in the sewer underneath the toilet. (Yes, I can see the image too!)

Modern day toilets with flushing were described as far back as 1596 by Sir John Harington, an English courtier and the godson of Queen Elizabeth I. His device called for a 2-foot-deep oval bowl waterproofed with pitch, resin and wax and fed by water from an upstairs cistern. Flushing Harington’s pot required 7.5 gallons of water—a veritable torrent in the era before indoor plumbing. Harington noted that when water was scarce, up to 20 people could use his commode between flushing!

In 1775 Scottish inventor Alexander Cumming was granted the first patent for a flush toilet. His greatest innovation was the S-shaped pipe below the bowl that used water to create a seal preventing sewer gas from entering through the toilet.

The name Thomas Crapper always springs to mind in connection with loos – he was a 19th century London plumbing impresario who manufactured one of the first widely successful lines of flush toilets. Crapper did not invent the toilet, but he did develop the ballcock, an improved tank-filling mechanism still used in toilets today.

The Japanese are now ahead with their smart toilet, built with smart technology, and these are starting to be used by the disabled. Put simply, this means smart toilets can interact with their user via remote control access. With a press of the button, you can flush, spray and dry! This high-tech toilet is the world's most advanced toilet system. With a remote control, they can spray-wash, air-dry, stop, deodorize, and self clean, they have a built-in nightlight and are energy saving.

High tech toilets

Sounds fantastic – until someone walks off with the remote, or drops it down the loo!