The flush toilet is a curious object. It is the default method of excreta disposal in most of the industrialized, technologically advanced world. It was invented either 500 or 2,000 years ago, depending on opinion. The ancient inhabitants of the mighty Indus Valley, in present-day Pakistan, had privies above channels of running water, whereas King Minos’s palace on Crete, 4,000 years ago, fed rainwater through terra-cotta pipes to flush privies below. Toilet historians, of which there are few, attribute the modern flush toilet to Sir John Harington, godson of Queen Elizabeth I, who thought his godmother might like something that flushed away her excreta and devised the Ajax, a play on the Elizabethan word “jakes”, meaning privy.
The golden age of the toilet, though, only occurred in the later years of the 18th century and the early years of the next, due to the trio of Alexander Cumming (who invented a valve mechanism), Joseph Bramah (a Yorkshireman who improved on Cumming’s valve and made the best lavatories to be had for the next century), and Thomas Crapper (another Yorkshireman who did not invent the toilet but improved its parts).