George Graham

An Unappreciated Boon


The modern toilet has to be one of the most unappreciated wonders of the world. You probably take it for granted as you linger over the comics pages of your newspaper, knowing all you have to do is pull that little lever when you’re through with your morning ablutions and go on your merry way.

Yet, in this imperfect world, flushing is a privilege reserved for a fortunate few.

Today, which has been declared World Toilet Day by those wise people at the UN, we honor the humble water closet, originally invented by Sir John Harrington in 1596 but ignored and even ridiculed at first.

The device was perfected by a series of other inventors over the years, and popularized by the legendary Thomas Crapper nearly three centuries later.

I understand that in Shakespeare’s day, folks did what they had to do in pails and tossed the results out into the streets of London. I imagine the people of other European countries did something similar.

And when the first immigrants arrived in America from England, they brought their slop pails with them. I can find no historical record of what they did with the contents.

As a child in Jamaica, I occasionally had to use an outhouse (top photo) at some relative’s rural home. And it was an experience you don’t easily forget. One I recall had two holes, and it crossed my mind that the person who built it must have expected communal use of the facility. My childish imagination ran amok.

Those outhouses did wonders for the circulation of The Daily Gleaner, though. Come to think of it, the rise of the water closet in America may be one reason for the decline of print journalism.

There’s a more serious side to world sanitation of course. A tragic side.

In a article this morning, Joanna Rothkopf reports that 10 million of the world’s children, 5 years old or younger, have died since the year 2000 because they didn’t have access to toilets. She adds:

Approximately 2.5 billion people around the world lack access to the most basic sanitation facilities, while 1.8 billion drink water contaminated with bodily waste, causing widespread disease that is wholly preventable.

Obviously, this horror must be ended, and there are dedicated individuals doing their best to end it.  The World Toilet Organization reports that from 1990 to 2012, 2.3 billion people around the world gained access to an improved drinking-water source.

There’s a lot more to be done, and the UN is making improved sanitation one of its “clear priorities.”

The declaration of World Toilet Day is part of the organization’s effort to raise awareness of the issue.

Click for the article.

Click for more on the urgency of the issue.

Click for more on your toilet’s history.

About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for