The Flush Toilet

a.k.a the most important invention of the Renaissance era


  • Sir John Harington, who was also the godson of Queen Elizabeth I, invented the first flush toilet in 1596 A.D.
  • He named it Ajax.
  • The queen was very enthusiastic about it, though the citizens weren't completely sold.
  • Thomas Crapper invented the first modern flush toilet in the 1860s.


The toilet was originally a pan with a sort of opening at the bottom. The hole was sealed with a valve made of leather. A complicated system of pipes, levers, weights, and handles poured water in the pan and opened the valve at the bottom. Usually, they were emptied onto the street from an upper-floor window. Since the toilet was on an upper floor, people would shout "gardez-l’eau" as a warning for people below to take cover.

Modern v. Renaissance

In the Renaissance period, Sir John Harington called his toilet a 'water-closet'. In 1775, a man named Alexander Cummings of London patented what he called a 'flushing water-closet' similar to John Harington's. Though, those two designs still held the smell, but in 1778 Joseph Bramah patented his design, which included an air-tight seal between the toilet and the sewage gas. Unfortunately, the smell still remained. In 1848, a Public Health Act was passed declaring that every house must have a toilet of some sort.

Thomas Crapper eventually invented the modern toilet in 1861, which had a pull-chain system for flushing and an air-tight seal between the toilet bowl and the floor. He also patented multiple different piping systems for venting sewer gas. Though the purpose has hardly changed, the toilet has had major improvements since the Renaissance.