"Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization" is a witty book by W. Hodding Carter that chronicles the long and notable history of plumbing through his travels of metropolitan sewers around the world and his attempt to build his own Roman lead pipes.
From a tour of a Roman bathhouse in England to the underground sludge of London’s sewers, you can't help but become entertained and educated on the topic of plumbing. With chapter titles such as The Humble Plumber, It Makes Your Garden Grow and The Power of Poop, he stresses the importance of plumbers and this underappreciated pillar of civilization, leaving readers to develop a new understanding of the miraculous technology of the modern day toilet.
Here's what you can expect to discover through Hodding Carter's book:
- Thomas Crapper did not invent the toilet (a widely held misconception), but he did improve it, marketing a valveless toilet in the late 1800s in England – coincidently there is no connection between Crapper and the popular euphemism "crap."
- It was the Romans who made plumbing a profession resembling that of modern times thanks to their outright obsession with the building of their baths. It's the Roman word "plumbarius" that gives us the term "plumber" we use today.
- The French word "toilet," meaning a water closet, sprang into existence around 1790 and was originally a euphemism for the terms water closet or lavatory, taking hold in England and the U.S. in the 20th century.
- In America and many countries around the world, we've gone from toilets that use 5-gpf to 6-gpf to 1.6-gpf, cutting down on water usage and inadvertently the amount of chemicals and energy being used by treatment plants.
- The Chinese probably practiced the earliest known form of plumbing in the fifth millennium BC by using pipes made from bamboo.
- Plumbers and certain civil engineers, unlike the rest of us, know how our entire water system works, come Armageddon or whatever disaster might befall us, it's the plumbers who will be able to provide the one thing to survive: water.
- In France, prior to indoor plumbing, households would collect waste in a pot of some sort and would simply toss the daily contents out the window. To forewarn those walking on the streets below, they would call out "garde l’eau," meaning "Look out for the water!"
- Like many trades, plumbing has a strict hierarchy of levels that can only be attained after a certain number of years or hours on the job, beginning as a trainee earning around $12 per hour and working up to the top of the field as master plumber and making a decent $40 per hour.
So whether you choose to call it the throne, the can, the head, the powder room or the restroom, the modern day toilet would be nowhere near what it is today without the plumber. Without their expertise, our water sources would be overly polluted, people would be dying from contaminated water and entire nations would be living in the filth of their own waste. Now that's one stinky situation.
Rachel Gilmore is marketing communications manager of RIDGID Branding for the Ridge Tool Co.