|60 A Royal Flush 1596
WE'RE NOT EAGER TO TALK about toilets--our euphemisms are many, including the throne, thunder box, privy and head--but as the title of one surprisingly popular children's book puts it, Everyone Poops. Which is why it's not at all surprising that rudimentary toilets date back to 2000 B.C., in the Minoan palace at Knossos on Crete. But until 1596, when British nobleman John Harington invented the first prac- tical "water closet"--a wooden seat with a cistern and a valve for flushing--waste disposal hadn't begun to move into the modern age. Before the WC, the most common place to go was the nearest tree, hole or river. (In outhouses in America, still in use among 10 percent of the population, at least one gets a seat.) Indoors, the top choice was the chamber pot, which city folk emptied out their windows onto the street. The French warning that accompanied the dumping--"Gare l'eau" ("Watch out for the water")--may have inspired another favorite euphemism, "the loo."
Though Harington's WC was installed in Richmond Palace, inadequate sewage systems prevented its widespread use, and 265 years passed before British plumber Thomas Crapper made his name marketing an advanced watersaving flush system. By the 1920s the toilet had become a standard fixture in most newly built homes--though in developing nations, a staggering 2.9 billion people still don't have access to one.
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