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Explore 5,000 years of sanitary history

Toilets: each of us uses one daily – but these are fleeting moments as we flip, flush and flee. How often do you give your loo a second thought? You should: the evolution of the toilet – from the earliest latrines and sewer systems thousands of years ago to flushing water closets and modern eco-friendly models – is a fascinating story of innovation and endeavour. 

From earliest times, we’ve sought ways to hide bad smells, messy sewage and the health problems that go with them. But there’s much more to a good toilet than masking a nasty whiff: safely removing human waste is a vital step in building healthy societies.

This Toilet Timeline, based around the collection at Crossness Engines, traces the key developments in design and technology. It also introduces a lively cast of characters. Meet the people who invented and used latrines, privies and water closets through the centuries – Roman soldiers, Elizabethan nobles, Georgian watchmakers, even astronauts – and learn the true legacy of Thomas Crapper.

For each development, click through for more detailed technical information on the key innovations. Discover the breakthroughs that made possible modern sanitation systems, as well as ideas that could help provide access to safe toilets to the billions worldwide who currently live without.

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