Bathroom Breaks That Changed History
Bathroom Breaks That Changed History

Bathroom Breaks That Changed History

Shannon Quinn - November 19, 2022

Bathroom Breaks That Changed History
A women’s public restroom from the 1950’s. Credit: The Week

The History of Workplace Bathrooms

When factories first started cropping up in England in the 1800’s, factories didn’t have actual bathrooms for their employees. They would provide an area outside where people could relieve themselves. To be fair, this wasn’t much different than what people had available to them at home. For the longest time, there were only male bathrooms. In 1919, the UK law changed to end discrimination against hiring women. However, many of these factories used the excuse that they didn’t have space for a female bathroom, and therefore couldn’t hire women. It wasn’t until 1974 that the law changed, demanding that there need to be both male and female toilets.

Bathroom Breaks That Changed History
An illustration depicting a woman tossing her waste out of the window. Credit: Ancient Origins

People in the Middle Ages Tossed Their Waste Out in the Streets

There is a popular idea that in the middle ages, people tossed their waste out of the window. While we can’t prove that this happened often, what we can look at are some of the written laws that were passed during this time. For example, in the early 14th century, tossing anything out your window into the streets of London meant that you would have to pay a 40p fine. With modern inflation, that’s closer to $142. Around that same time, there was a case of a woman named Alice Wade who connected a pipe from her privy to the outside gutter. This would get stopped up with filth, and smell so horrible that her neighbors complained. She was ordered to remove it.

Bathroom Breaks That Changed History
A 5th-century mosaic in the Great Palace of Constantinople depicts two gladiators fighting a tiger. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A Gladiator Once Killed Himself With a Toilet Brush

Being a gladiator was a tough gig. They were prisoners who were forced to fight to the death. Seneca the Younger wrote about this story, “In a training academy for gladiators who work with wild beasts, a German slave, while preparing for the morning exhibition, withdrew in order to relieve himself – the only thing he was allowed to do in secret and without the presence of a guard. While so engaged, he seized the stick of wood tipped with a sponge, devoted to the vilest uses, and stuffed it down his throat. Thus he blocked up his windpipe and choked the breath from his body… What a brave fellow. He surely deserved to be allowed to choose his fate.”

Bathroom Breaks That Changed History
Thomas Crapper has several patents associated with plumbing. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Crapper Helped Design The Modern “Crapper”

At first, the name “Crapper” sounds like a joke about poop. But there truly was an inventor named Thomas Crapper. He is often mistaken as the inventor of the flushing toilet. We already mentioned earlier that the credit actually goes to Sir John Harington in 1596. He held 9 plumbing patents associated with toilets and sewers, including water closets (early flush toilets), manhole covers, pipe joints, and drain improvements. Crapper opened the first bathroom showroom in 1870, where people could test out different toilets they could buy for their homes. He also worked as the royal plumber, visiting various palaces to help fix any problems they may have had with their toilets.

 

How did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

How a Luckily Timed Bathroom Break Saved LBJ’s Life During WWII. History. 2019.

Designers on acid: the tripping Californians who paved the way to our touchscreen world. Oliver Wainwright. The Guardian. 2017.

Milestones in the history of diabetes mellitus: The main contributors. National Library of Medicine. 2016.

Lavatory and Liberty: The Secret History of the Bathroom Break. Corey Robin. 2012.

The Weird History of Gender-Segregated Bathrooms. Stephanie Pappas. Live Science. 2016.

Phosphorus Starts With Pee In This Tale Of Scientific Serendipity. NPR. 2016.

The Glamorous, Sexist History of the Women’s Restroom Lounge. Elizabeth Yuko. Bloomberg. 2018.

10 Bathroom Breaks That Changed History. Nate Yungman. Listverse. 2022.

Believe it or not, gas station bathrooms used to be squeaky clean. Here’s what changed. Nathaniel Meyersohn. CNN Business. 2022.

A Brief (and Very British) History of Workplace Bathrooms. Linda Rodriguez McRobbie. Topic. 2018

It Was Once Someone’s Job to Chat With the King While He Used the Toilet. Natalie Zarrelli. Atlas Obscura. 2017.

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