…especially on toilets which, by the way, saved humanity, changed our ecology, and made the modern city possible.

If you are the sort of person who does not like to use public restrooms, I will warn you right now, this article is going to cause you some concern. It may lead you to hold it until you get home. It may even lead you to abandon bathrooms altogether for a bear’s life of pooping in the woods. The bears, after all, never have to worry about whether or not to put toilet paper around the rim of the seat. Then again, bears also don’t live in cities with million of other pooping bears.

I am getting ahead of myself a little. Before we get to what is living in public restrooms, we need to better understand the toilet, the restroom’s glamorous raison d’être. It is remarkably hard to identify the person who invented the first flushing toilet. Brighter minds have tried and failed. Praise is sometimes leveled on Sir Thomas Crapper. Crapper was a toilet visionary—no question. But crapper did not invent the flushing toilet, he just elaborated upon existing designs (Crap is not named for him, though that would be a better story.). Truth is, toilets are one of those inventions that followed need and so arose independently all around the world when the alternatives went from terrible to unbearable.

In urban Europe from the 1500s until the mid-1800s most homes lacked indoor plumbing. Folks were content to use chamber pots emptied out of windows with a heave. When throwing one’s feces out a window it was polite to yell some version of “look out below.” When accidentally walking under such falling feces, one assumes the standard thing to yell back was “oh crap.” With time, feces accumulated beneath windows to a depth that required shoveling. This and a general preponderance of waste eventually led to the use of indoor, flushing, toilets, but not until the 1850s. Until then, European cities reeked of filth and decay. The good ole days of London and other major cities were, at least for people, not so good.

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