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They Invented it


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by Fenella Saunders

The world's first flushing toilet was built for a queen— Queen Elizabeth I, whose godson, Sir John Harington, installed one of his newfangled devices for her in 1596. The technology became more accessible in 1775, when Alexander Cumming made a sliding-valve flush toilet with a permanently water-filled bowl to suppress odors. Then in 1778, Joseph Bramah put a hinged valve at the bottom of the bowl that allowed the water to flow in only one direction. Thomas Crapper, a prominent flush-toilet manufacturer of the late 1800s, refined the devices; contrary to lore, however, he is not the namesake for what goes into them. Some manufacturers now incorporate an electric motor and pump to make flushing more vigorous while using less water. Matsushita in Japan has built a toilet with an attached unit that uses lasers and sensors to check urine for glucose levels or kidney disease.

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